## 07 March 2012

### How are the fingers enumerated?

From a gallery of "Prosthetics Through Time" posted at the BBC, and interesting to me in two regards, both noted in the caption ("The third and little fingers are reinforced to increase strength while a cord closes the hand.")

I wonder why those two fingers were "reinforced" with the metal support.  I presume it leaves those two with a permanent curvature so that the hand can be used to grip and pull on objects.

But why are they called "the third and little fingers?"  Is that how you guys do it over there?  For me, the "third finger" would be the longest central one, and the two with the metal would be the fourth and fifth.  But I suppose if the first digit is called a thumb, then one has a thumb and four fingers, and the enumeration is grammatically correct.

It's nothing important, but I'm curious.  Was there an error in the writing of the caption, or is this a common way of counting digits?

1. I'm not from "over there," but I do remember having heard something about differing conventions on counting with fingers. I think the difference was that Americans begin with the thumb as "one," while Europeans begin with the pointer finger and end with the thumb as "five"? That might be incorrect, though.

2. I noticed several years ago that the numbering for fingers is crazily inconsistent. If we agree to call the fingers thumb,A,B,C,D as we move away from the thumb, "first finger" invariably means A, but "fourth finger" means C, according to the OED. (It has no gloss for "second finger", "third finger" or "fifth finger", as one might imagine.) The OED presents several ancient English quotations calling C the fourth finger, so the difference is not only geographic.

3. Germany counts from one (thumb) to five (pinky).

4. In piano instruction, the first finger is always the thumb, second is index finger, and so on. This is possibly why when it said "third finger" I immediately assumed it meant middle finger.

5. In my OR in the US, the thumb is #1, the pinkie is #5. But a lot of the surgeons use the names as well, or instead of, because the numbers not clear to everyone. Thumb, index, long, ring, pinkie. It's an issue when we are doing procedures on different fingers on the same case, and need to be absolutely clear. I suspect it is from anatomical position, starting from the right side, the most lateral digit is the thumb.

6. Search of Google Books suggests that, at least before 1900, "first finger" in piano instruction books always referred to finger A, never to the thumb. (Typical example: "The thumb is very rarely crossed by the first finger, never by the fourth." Karl Merz' piano method: a complete course of instruction for the pianoforte (1885))

I have not checked more recent books.

7. I would consider the ring finger the third finger. I would discount the thumb as being defined a finger as it is anatomically different. If you want to talk digits though the ring finger is the fourth digit. I don't know if it is a regional thing but I am from the original OC (in New York :)

8. In anatomy (particularly comparative anatomy), the phalanx (fingers) are designated by roman numerals. "I" is the thumb and "V" is the pinkie.

This numeral system is used to designate the homologous bones between species. In the case of the panda's "thumb", that bone doesn't get a numeral since it's not homologous to the phalanx or finger digits of other species.

http://www.athro.com/evo/pthumb.html

9. For pianists, the thumb is numbered one and the pinky is numbered five. For violinists the pointer finger is one and the pinky is four.

1. Interesting dichotomy; thank you, Garrett.

10. Ya'll haven't completed counting:

http://boingboing.net/2011/11/16/six-finger-toy-commercial.html

And we thought rap (listen to the commercial) was a recent invention.

Lurker111

11. England does it differently.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finger_counting

1. This part might be worth further reading:

"A very similar form is presented by the English monk and historian Bede... which allowed counting up to 9,999 on two hands, though it was apparently little-used for numbers of 100 or more. This system remained in use through the European middle ages, being presented in slightly modified form by Luca Pacioli in his seminal Summa de Arithmetica (1494)."

2. Saiint Bede was a monk historian who also popularised the A.D we use today.

From:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bede#Use_of_Anno_Domini
Bede used both these approaches on occasion, but adopted a third method as his main approach to dating: the anno domini method invented by Dionysius Exiguus.[82] Although Bede did not invent this method, his adoption of it, and his promulgation of it in De Temporum Ratione, his work on chronology, is the main reason why it is now so widely used.

12. Thumb is called, simply, "the thumb"; next to it are the first (pointing) finger, second (middle) finger, third (ring) finger, and fourth (pinkie) finger. Born in Washington State with no known Brits in my family tree and three generations back before you find immigrants.

13. UK born and bred here. I think that generally, in the context of counting on our hands, we commonly use both thumb=1 and index=1 (with thumb as five, after the fingers) methods, depending on personal preference.

For me personally, if I know I'm counting to five or more, I'll start with my thumb, if it's a smaller number (or I'm thinking aloud) I'll start with my index finger. Though I never noticed that before just this moment!

Additionally, I would say that we do generally tend to use finger names (thumb, index, middle, ring and little) instead of numbers, unless - as mentioned above - we're using a schematic system such as piano or violin playing, etc. Also, if I was asked to point to my 'first finger' I would point to my index finger; similarly second, third and fourth as middle, ring and little. But I would not be at all confused by someone starting with the thumb as '1', as long as there was enough context to grasp the difference.

What I mean to say is that, with the additional information of the image, I doubt anyone was confused by the meaning of the phrase "third and little fingers". Even though it's not a system you may be familiar with, it's not completely confusing. Having the picture there makes it all clear.

14. In legerdemain, coin-palming, and sleight-of-hand, the first finger is the index, second finger the longest, third the ring, etc. How it's always referred to in Bobo's. Of course, he was French, which might be part of it.

15. I don't think this an transatlantic distinction

Myrna Loy starred in "Third Finger, Left Hand" in 1940.

Martha and the Vandellas sung "Third finger, Left hand" in the mid sixties

1. ... referring to the location of a wedding ring. Thank you, Donkey Lasher.

16. Not on counting, but would any horseriders confirm that the reins would be held in this hook? I assume the prosthetic would be worn by the gentry (riding) classes? The shape looks kind of horsey to me...

1. Excellent suggestion, CherryMetal. :.)