7

What are the names of the five fingers in classical Latin? Some fingers may have several names, some may have none; I place no restrictions on the numbers of translations. Googling gives some answers, but some concern medical Latin and it's not easy to judge the credibility of other sources. The second link seems promising, but I can't tell whether the names are also classical, as some of the quoted sources are younger.

8

The following, taken from a transcription of Smith & Hall's 'Copious & Critical Latin-English Dictionary', should give you everything that you need:

Finger (subs.)-, digitus (also thumb or toe):

  • the fore finger:
    1. digitus index (as used in pointing), Hor. : Plin.
    2. digitus salutaris (perh. as used in greeting). Suet. Aug. 80
  • the middle finger:
    1. digitus medius, Plin.: Quint,
    2. (digitus infamis, inmpudicus, as used in obscene gestures, cf. Mart. 6, 70, 5)
  • the third finger:
    1. digitus minimo proximus, Gell.
    2. digitus medicus, Plin. 10, 12. 54
    3. digitus medicinalis (minimo vicinus), Macr. Sat. 7, U, ad init.
  • the little finger:
    1. digitus minimus, Hor. : Gell. : Macr.

It even has one or two quite impolite gestures, which we modern folk seem to be perpetuating!

To complete the picture, the thumb is (digitus) pollex, for which Smith's suggests further indicative uses.

  • Thanks! This is concise, complete, and well sourced answer to a list-like question, and that's a rare find at this site. (I took the liberty to reformat slightly; feel free to re-edit or rollback.) – Joonas Ilmavirta Aug 3 '17 at 16:36
  • @JoonasIlmavirta I took the liberty to reformat quite a bit for easy reference...again feel free to roll-back! – brianpck Aug 4 '17 at 13:32
  • Now I'm curious to know why the "ring finger" was referred to as the "medicinal finger"! – brianpck Aug 4 '17 at 13:33
  • 1
    @TomCotton Could this be what he meant? latin.packhum.org/loc/978/1/2289/417-422,424-429@1#2289 – brianpck Aug 4 '17 at 14:10
  • 1
    @brianpck That's probably the one. I shudder to even look at some of the remedies that he gives! – Tom Cotton Aug 4 '17 at 14:13
4

The above answer is wonderful, but as a supplement Pomponius Porphyrion (2nd c. AD, or later), a commentator on Horatius (Horace), takes occasion in the following line of the Satires,

Nomentanus ad hoc, qui, siquid forte lateret,
indice monstraret digito; (2.8.25-26)

...to remark in his commentary:

Hoc ideo, quia certis nominibus singuli digiti appellantur. Et sunt haec nomina: pollex, index, famosus, medicus, minimus.

I think this is worth including, even though it's not classical, since it's an explicit listing of all the fingers (unlike any other source I have been able to find). It substantially agrees with the words given in Smith & Hall, except for "famosus."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.