I was five, maybe six, when I first realized my thumbs were different. They were not only different from other people’s, they were different from each other. My right hand sported a long, sleek variety that had the grace of Audrey Hepburn. The thumb on my left hand was short, fat, and stubby—strangely similar to the shape of Danny DeVito.
As an adult, I learned my odd-shaped digit has been known through the centuries by many different names: potter’s thumb, bohemian thumb, royal thumb, toe thumb, and my personal favorite … murderer’s thumb. Perhaps that is why I ended up writing murder mysteries—it’s my thumb’s way of living out its destiny.
Myths about the genetic condition abound. The first mention of a “murderer’s thumb” in a crime novel appeared in 1907 when Alice Maud Meadows wrote “A Million of Money” wherein the murderer has a clubbed thumb. Meadows got the notion from the pseudo-sciences of the 19th century—physiognomy, craniometry, and phrenology and palmistry. Experts in those fields said a portly thumb was the mark of primitive disposition, a sign of impulsive and unsophisticated thinking. More than a hundred years ago, one palmist went as far to say that the thumb “leads them to fits of violent rage … and gives them passion and determination strong enough to take human life.”
Nowadays, scientists are a bit more objective. They’ve assigned a “bulbous” thumb the name brachydactyly type D, and it’s no more sinister than freckles. All the same, nicknames continue—some universally given and some bestowed by family and friends. For example, in junior high my classmates called my thumb E.T. (Yes, I grew up in the 80s.)
In college, I embraced my genetic malformation. I even went on a “thoe” (thumb=toe) quest. I met a professor of physics in Washington, D.C. who had a thoe, a fellow journalist, and many others. One day an attractive man with two big thumbs walked into my office. When I pointed out his “thoes” he looked at me as if to say “so what?” I popped out my thumb to show him we were kindred spirits and six months later we were married.
You guessed it … one of our children also has a set of thoes.
Who knows. Maybe world domination is next.
P.S. Check out my mysteries written with a murderer’s thumb HERE.