“Digits crossed!” is an expression that my friends and I use when we are hoping for things to turn out well—with double the power of “fingers crossed!” Yes, we hope to ensure this by metaphorically crossing not just the fingers, but also the toes.
In today’s ‘digital age’ where the digit-related terms are so commonly used—digitization, digital camera, digital natives, digital divide, digital detox….we relate the word only to numbers. We seem to have forgotten that the word’s anatomical meaning. The word digit has its roots in the Latin root word digitus which means “finger or toe,” and English borrowed from this to mean “number.”
In fact, the practice of calling numbers digits comes from the digits on the hands — specifically, the habit of counting to ten on one’s fingers.
The digit in this sense was also a unit of measurement, long ago when people used their hands and arms for measuring things. The width of a first finger was called a digit. This was used to measure things. The width of a palm was called a hand breadth. The width of an outstretched hand was called a span. The distance between an elbow and the tip of the longest finger was called a cubit.
The Egyptians had a standard length from the elbow to the middle fingertip, a distance of about 45-50 cm which they called a cubit. The width of the hand or four fingers was called a palm or hand and was about 9-10 cm. Hands is still used for measuring horses.
The ancient fathom was the distance between the outstretched arms about 1.8 metres. It is still used for measuring depth at sea.
The foot may have come from an ancient Babylonian brick measurement but in fact it works out to the approximate length of a man’s foot about 30 cm. The finger became an inch, which the Roman’s made one-twelfth of a foot.
In this digital age, if you want to sound smart, you can refer to your finger, thumb, or toe as a digit!
If you want to sound smarter still, go digital in Latin!
Here’s what they are called:
Index finger (pointer finger, fore finger) Digitus Secundus Manus
Middle finger Digitus Medius Manus
Ring finger Digitus Annularis Manus
Pinky ( little finger) Digitus Minimus Manus
And keep your digits crossed!