Stick out like a sore thumb??

I was just wondering…where does this expression come from and does it really make sense? Does a sore thumb really stick out…and how often and who really gets a sore thumb? I thought about it the other day and wondered why we don’t say “stick out like a booger in the nose?”, referring to how something is extremely obvious to the eye.

I’m not at all sure about this and hadn’t thought about it until you asked the question - but something comes to mind.

Let’s say you burned your thumb on something and it hurt like bloody hell if anything touched the burned spot. Throughout the day, you bump it on a million things - you have no clue that so many things touched that spot on your thumb until that spot was sore - then you realized all too well how often you used it and bumped it around.

I think it may May be along those lines - stuck out like a thumb that’s sore. You never noticed before it was sore but when it is, it sure …sticks out like a sore thumb and gets your attention.

Okay, do I sound nuts?


I haven’t found anything yet on the origins of the phrase other than the OED’s first cite for it is from 1936:

From this usage, it sounds like it was a fairly common expression.

The thumb has been used in many expressions over time, from “to bite one’s thumb at” to “green thumb” to “rule of thumb” (which we won’t get into right now) to “under the thumb”. A person’s hands are one of things we say on a regular basis, and it’s certainly a more polite phrase than “a booger in the nose”. Perhaps it comes from the custom of shaking hands to greet someone, where the thumb is part of the hand you would see.

Here’s another quote from Gardner, that I found quite amusing because it combines two thumb phrases:

enlightening…I think I see your point Tibs. I guess it means that the thumbs sticks out to oneself alot more than it would, rather than to others. Ughhhh…well, unless it was bloody!

No problem - gimme some more phrases and I’ll make up more origins. I’m good like that.



Well in my opinion everytime I hear this expression I feel as if its mentioning a hitch hiker. They stick out their thumbs in an attempt to pick up a ride. And of course every body driving on the road notices them. Plus, the person who is hitching is mad because he can’t get a ride. So he sticks out his sore thumb!

Have any of you ever had a sore thumb? I don’t mean just a knuckle duster or a cut either, but a bad sprain or a break. The damn thing seems to catch on everything, as though it sticks out more when it is sore than when it is not. You don’t notice it catching on things normally, but when it’s really tender, weeell, Christ on a bicycle!, it hurts like hell.

Speaking as an arniseros whose thumbs have been clobbered with fast-moving hickory clubs on many occassions, I can say that nothing in my experience takes as much abuse as a sore thumb. How many times do you reach into a small enclosed space (especially pockets or a purse) daily? Every time you do so, your thumb will seem to snag on everything (particularly if it’s swollen from an injury) and hurt like blazes. I prefer getting hit on the head during training than taking a hit or lock on a thumb.

Also, if your thumb is swollen, particularly near the base, it will tend to literally stick out straight away from your hand.