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A Russian colleague of mine recently told me that English is the only language that actively distinguishes between fingers and thumbs by having a completely separate word. Her phrasing of it was "English is the only language where you have 8 fingers, in all others there are 10!".

This surprises me. I'm sure that there must be at least one other language out there that does distinguish between them. I did a quick Google to find out if this was true, but the results were inconclusive. Some results supported the conclusion, others went as far as saying that there is even a Russian word for "thumb", but didn't actually specify what that word was. A possibility that I find plausible is that a lot of languages do have such a word, but its use is not very frequent or the word is archaic.

So, do other languages have 8 fingers too, or are we just strange?

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Spanish has a thumb but not toes. Rather, the word for thumb is pulgar, which is related to pulgada, an inch. Fingers are dedos and toes are also dedos, just dedos del pie. One’s “fingers and toes” are therefore los dedos de manos y pies. And the would-be thumb on your foot in English is called your great toe, or big toe. –  tchrist Jun 8 '12 at 12:50
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I've no doubt french doigt is etymologically related to digit, and I can't believe a French person would find anything odd about "cinq doigts à chaque main". They have pouce for "thumb", but so far as I know there's no French word exclusively reserved for "non-thumb digits". If this is a meaningful question at all, it's comparative linguistics - outside the scope of ELU. –  FumbleFingers Jun 8 '12 at 12:57
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Are you asking about English or about some other language? If it is about some other language then that is off-topic here (and one of the main reasons it was closed). –  Mitch Jun 8 '12 at 13:37
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"A Russian colleague" Most likely he's mistaken. Because there are many languages, it is very unlikely that only one of them names "thumb" differently compared to other fingers. –  SigTerm Jun 8 '12 at 14:37
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@Mark: oic. You mean it's like with toes in English, where everyone uniquely identifies one of them as great toe or big toe. We know that one's different enough to be singled out somehow, and it's not even opposable. The fact that our way of singling out digits just recombines existing words doesn't really mean much though. For example, English, French, and German don't have a "dedicated" word for grandfather - just a combination of two existing elements. –  FumbleFingers Jun 9 '12 at 11:28
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closed as off topic by FumbleFingers, Jasper Loy, Robusto, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, RegDwigнt Jun 8 '12 at 13:27

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2 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

The French for 'finger' is doigt. The French for 'thumb' is pouce.

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@Polynomial: Per my comment against the question, doigt in French works the same as finger and digit in English. It can include thumbs or not, depending primarily on whether the context specifically identifies thumb/pouce separately. Although in English, digit always includes thumbs, so doigt is more like finger in that it can either include or not. –  FumbleFingers Jun 8 '12 at 13:01
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How does this even answer the (off-topic) question? –  Robusto Jun 8 '12 at 13:37
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Barrie, I apologize. I don't know what I was using for brains this morning. Suffice to say I had a brain cramp. Blame it on lack of sleep, if you want to be kind. I can't undo my downvote at this, but I will catch you later. –  Robusto Jun 8 '12 at 17:29
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@Robusto: As some people say, no worries. –  Barrie England Jun 8 '12 at 18:43
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I edited the answer transparently and lo I can undo the downvote. A tip of the keyboard to @Jasper for the protip. –  Robusto Jun 9 '12 at 13:00
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Apparently the Spanish think the English are strange about this: see here.

Spanish has a thumb but not toes. Rather, the Spanish word for thumb is pulgar, which is related to pulgada, an inch. Fingers are dedos and toes are also dedos, just dedos del pie. One’s “fingers and toes” are therefore los dedos de manos y pies.

And the would-be thumb on your foot in English is called your great toe, or big toe.

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