A Celebration of Our Greatest Appendage

Without thumbs we couldn’t hitchhike; give thumbs up; give a handjob; use a hammer; use the full vocabulary of sign language; pick up a cup; make a phone call; recreate Star Wars with only thumbs (see: Thumb Wars); use a lighter; do an accurate Fo

Sometimes, as a writer, you get hit with an idea, run with it for perhaps a few more miles than you should, scribble down notes and a rough draft and then sit back, read it and realize pitching (let alone publishing) it might very well get you put into a mental institution. 

One of my greatest worst ideas for a story came last summer. I prepped the pitch — for a cover story, no less — in great detail, then, having chased the concept late into the night, decided to sleep on it. 

I woke up and re-read what I’d written. The more I read, the more hesitant I became. I hide my mental problems fairly well; this would rip the lid off, I decided. 

I chickened out and decided not to pitch the story to my editor. But it was based on a relevant concept, one due deep thought and discussion. So a year later, I’ve finally decided to make a fool of myself in 750 words and not 75,000. 

My subject? The thumb, our most important appendage. 

The more I thought of how important our thumbs have been — and how their importance has increased greatly in the past decade — the more convinced I was that thumbs were due praise. 

My pitch was for CityBeat to publish “The Thumb Issue: A Celebration of the Our Greatest Appendage.” The issue would be a publishing first, an entire issue written with staffers’ thumbs on phones or tablets (as far as readers would know), with dazzling thumb-clicked photography, a full-color fully opposable thumb centerfold and various thumb-affiliated features. 

I developed a theory that our thumbs, already the result of evolution and our need to hold stuff, would continue to evolve thanks to our species’ increased dependence on smart phones. Today, our thumbs have become a primary communication and learning tool (texting, posting to social media, browsing the Internet). 

Over the next hundred thousand years of human evolution, we will all just be walking brains with gigantic thumbs sticking out of either side. Oh, sure, maybe we’ll start using our pinky finger (the thumb’s disappointing little cousin) for everything in a few years or perhaps we will sprout a new appendage that can walk, scratch our own butts and text/browse simultaneously. But, as it stands, thumbs are leading our way.   

The thumb’s place in human history pre-21st century is almost as important. It’s the main appendage that sets us apart from other species (other animals do have “opposable thumbs,” but they are dumb). 

The thumb has been a part of popular culture since before we called it “popular culture.” In my proposal, I also would have suggested a “Great Thumbs in History!” calendar. 

There are characters like Tom Thumb (named for his size) and Little Jack Horner, who really needed to learn some manners. (Who sees a Christmas pie, puts his thumb in it, pulls out a plum and then has the nerve to declare, “What a good boy am I?” A jerk kid, that’s who.) 

More recently, there’s been Linus, the Peanuts character who set back anti-thumb-sucking and anti-blanket-clutching forces for decades, movie critics Siskel & Ebert and The Fonz. Today, many of us deal with virtual thumbs daily when we like a Facebook post. 

There are innumerable things that we either couldn’t do or would have a terribly difficult time doing without thumbs. As an experiment, cut one off for a day. (For the more squeamish, duct-taping one to your palm should also work.)

Without thumbs we couldn’t hitchhike; give thumbs up; give a handjob; use a hammer; use the full vocabulary of sign language; pick up a cup; make a phone call; recreate Star Wars with only thumbs (see: Thumb Wars); use a lighter; do an accurate Fonzie impression; text while driving; tweet without a laptop on the toilet; do the front tooth/thumb “Screw you dude” thing during your ethnically insensitive “Italian guy” impersonation; snap your fingers when you go, “Oh. No. You. DIDN’T!”; turn on the ignition fast enough to escape a murderer in a horror movie; play thumb piano with any sense of virtuosity; not embarrass yourself trying to use chopsticks in public; carry your $6 coffee drink without looking like you’re praying with it between your hands; do shots of tequila without knuckling the shot glass and lemon chaser; or change the channel quickly when an According to Jim rerun comes on. 

And that’s just thumb-scratching the surface.

Ultimately, I’m a little sad that “The Thumb Issue” didn’t come to fruition, but I’m happier now that I’ve gotten my adoration for thumbs off my chest. Now excuse me — there appear to be two men dressed in white coats knocking on my front door.

CONTACT MIKE BREEN: [email protected] or @CityBeatMusic. Also, search #notablethumbs on Instagram for a Top 50 countdown of the world's most notable thumbs (samples below).