What does the idiom "be all fingers and thumbs" mean?

The phrase be all fingers and thumbs is often used in English, but what does this idiom mean? When idioms are used in the right situations, they strengthen communication and enrich the language. You can communicate more effectively by learning the meaning of be all fingers and thumbs.

Meaning of "be all fingers and thumbs"


The phrase "be all fingers and thumbs" is a idiom used to describe a person who is clumsy, awkward and not very adept at doing certain tasks that require dexterity. It is usually used to refer to someone who is particularly inept at manual labor or a craft type activity that requires fine motor skills. Other related idioms are "all thumbs" or "two left hands".


The origins of this phrase are quite unclear. Some believe that it might be related to the phrase "to feel for something with your fingers", which implies clumsiness and awkwardness. Another theory is that it originated from the days of chimney sweeping, as soot on chimneys was called "thumbs", and the sweeps had to use their hands and fingers to clean.


This phrase is usually used in a lighthearted and slightly critical way, usually in the form of a joke. It is usually used to describe someone's clumsiness, such as when they are struggling to do a task or craft, or simply not very adept at it. It is not usually used in an overly serious or insulting way.

Example Sentences

  • I'm sorry, I'm a bit all fingers and thumbs when it comes to building flatpack furniture.
  • As a new seamstress, Mary was all fingers and thumbs when it came to sewing.
  • My husband is all thumbs when it comes to gardening.

The meanings of the words in the "be all fingers and thumbs" idiom

The Global Spread of English Idioms

As English has become a global language, its idioms have spread far beyond the borders of the UK and USA. For instance, the idiom "beat around the bush" has equivalents in many other languages, such as "tourner autour du pot" in French and "dar vueltas al asunto" in Spanish. Meanwhile, other idioms have been adapted for local contexts, such as the Russian idiom "?? ???? ???????" (ne svoya rubashka), which translates to "not one's own shirt," meaning to be in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation.


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