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what does " crack thumb" and also " Balck fall" mean in this sentences from a Play: " that is the House of shaws! blood built it; blood stopped the building of it; blood shall bring it down. see here! I spite upon the ground, and crack my thumb at it! Black be its fall! if you see the laird, tell him what ye hear..."

  • It's not from a play, it's from Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped (1886). You can tell from the context it's supposed to mean a contemptuous gesture (stronger than cock a snook), but I can't find any similar usages in Google Books, or relevant dictionary definitions. Perhaps Stevenson just made it up to convey a [pseudo-] authentic rustic dialectal usage. – FumbleFingers Sep 20 '14 at 17:30
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    ...it's easy to imagine this as a creative one-off variation on I snap my fingers at you (I am contemptuously dismissive of you), which has somewhat gone out of fashion over the past century or two. – FumbleFingers Sep 20 '14 at 17:41
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    "Do you bite your thumb at us, sir? /[Aside to confidant: Is the law of our side if I say ay? No.]/ I do not bite my thumb at you, sir: but I bite my thumb, sir". Romeo and Juliet, I,1. – TimLymington Sep 20 '14 at 17:55
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Neither is a common phrase, but we can make a good guess from context.

By implication, cracking his thumb (I'm guessing in the same sense as "cracking your fingers") is an insulting gesture in the speaker's culture.

"Black be its fall" is an idiomatic version of "may its fall be black", and again by implication is intended as a wish that the House of Shaws shall fall in an unpleasant manner.

You didn't tell us where this came from, but I'm guessing (from the use of "laird") that this is intended to be a Scots dialect or something related to it. If you want to research the exact meaning of these phrases, that may help you do so.

(@FumbleFingers' guess that these may have been made up is a good one. It was common for authors to invent "bad language" -- curse words and the like -- to avoid printing something that might offend the reader. We still see this in television scripts, such as the invention of "frack" in Battlestar Galactica. It's also common when you want something that seems appropriate for the speaker's culture but aren't willing or able to do the research to find the correct phrase -- lazy, but common.)

  • Black for evil was common in Scots, long before any possible racism. There's an old song Some say he's black, but I say he's bonny. – TimLymington Sep 20 '14 at 17:58

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