I'm looking for a word that describes the lack of "manual dexterity" (humans, apes, similar animals).

Basically, most animals with paws, fins or hooves would usually fit into that category but it should also be applicable to a person with no fingers, hands or limbs.

Or, alternatively, a word for "(physically) unable to use tools due to lack of appropriate limbs (usually fingers)"

Is there a word or term for this?

  • I was expecting from the title that you would be looking for words meaning 'clumsy', I was going to offer the scottish 'handless' dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/handless but not I've read your question it seems needlessly unsubtle.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 12, 2016 at 10:24
  • 1
    We call them "differently-abled", don't we?
    – BiscuitBoy
    Sep 12, 2016 at 10:28
  • @Spagirl "clumsy" was my first thought as well, but to me it implies accident-proneness, not a lack of the necessary limbs. Hm, what do you mean by unsubtle? I'm not a native english speaker, so I'm not quite sure how I could summarize it better; I tried to describe it as good as I could.
    – Katai
    Sep 12, 2016 at 10:52
  • You could ironically use the phrase all thumbs.
    – bib
    Sep 12, 2016 at 11:08
  • @Katai 'Handless' in Scottish English usage figuratively means clumsy, Literally it means 'without hands' but that is not what would be understood in Scotland if used to describe someone. Your heading, 'Word or phrase for 'lack of manual dexterity'...' sounds as though is is asking for a word for clumsy, (lack of dexterity) but it seems you are actually looking for a word for 'lack of hand'. So,in Scots usage, it would be rude to use 'handless', meaning clumsy, when its literal meaning was true. Perhaps you need to decide if the lack of digits or lack of dexterity is more important.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 12, 2016 at 11:12

2 Answers 2


Prehensile means able to grab or hold something, and has the antonym Nonprehensile. This is probably the closest single word to describing an animal that is unable to use tools.

It seems to be commonly used in the world of robotics, but could equally apply to animals.


This may possibly be the closest to what you are looking for:

maladroit - lacking or showing a lack of nimbleness in using one's hands

Example: Some maladroit steering on her part caused the bicycle to go crashing into the bushes.


Another word that might prove useful would be:

ambisinister - clumsy or unskillful with both hands


  • Though the OP does specifically want a term which 'applicable to a person with no fingers, hands or limbs', and its tricky to show a lack of nimbleness in using one's hands if one hasn't got any.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 12, 2016 at 13:34
  • Point taken. However, I don't think the literal definition precludes it from being used in a more general sense. I can't see any problem using it in a phrase such as 'the bear's strikingly maladroit attempts to extract the honeycomb from the hole in the tree'. Sep 12, 2016 at 13:52
  • if I was close enough to a bear to see how it was doing at honey extraction, I'd be nothing but complimentary! However, I think it would be strange to say that the reason a fish was bad with a screwdriver was maladroitness.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 12, 2016 at 13:53
  • What would you put it down to? Lack of appropriate training? Sep 12, 2016 at 13:58
  • I'd say it was 'due to lack of appropriate limbs',as per the question. I don't agree that 'maladroit' addresses the lack of hands, being essentially a synonym of clumsy which the Katai has already considered and rejected '"clumsy" was my first thought as well, but to me it implies accident-proneness, not a lack of the necessary limbs.'
    – Spagirl
    Sep 12, 2016 at 14:04

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