The index finger (also referred to as forefinger[1], first finger[2], pointer finger, trigger finger, digitus secundus, digitus II, and many other terms), is the first finger and the second digit of a human hand. It is located between the first and third digits, between the thumb and the middle finger. It is usually the most dextrous and sensitive finger of the hand, though not the longest – it is shorter than the middle finger, and may be shorter or longer than the ring finger – see digit ratio.

"Index finger" literally means "pointing finger", from the same Latin source as indicate; its anatomical names are "index finger" and "second digit".


A lone index finger held vertically is often used to represent the number 1 (but finger counting differs across cultures), or when held up or moved side to side (finger-wagging), it can be an admonitory gesture. With the hand held palm out and the thumb and middle fingers touching, it represents the letter d in the American Sign Language alphabet. In sports, it can also represent victory, as some championship-winning teams raise their index finger (often saying "We're number one!") while posing for a championship team photo – oversized foam hands with a single upraised index are also used for this purpose; compare with the victory sign. Most humans find the index finger particularly useful for "picking" their nose. This is done when the index finger is thrust upward into the nasal passage. For the vast majority of computer users, it is the finger most often used to (left) click a mouse, as well as the finger used in the untrained 'hunt and peck' typing style.


Pointing with index finger may be used to indicate an item or person.[3]

Around the age of one year, babies begin pointing to communicate relatively complex thoughts, including interest, desire, information, and more. Pointing in human babies can demonstrate the theory of mind, or ability to understand what other people are thinking. This gesture may form one basis for the development of human language. Non-human primates, lacking the ability to formulate ideas about what others are thinking, use pointing in much less complex ways.[4] However, dogs[5][5] and elephants[6] do understand finger pointing.

In some countries, particularly the Ethnic Malays in Malaysia, pointing using index finger is rude, hence thumb is used instead.

Index finger in Islam

In Islam raising the index finger signifies the Tawhīd (تَوْحِيد), which denotes the indivisible oneness of God. It is used to express the unity of God ("there is no god but God").[7] The gesture has recently become widespread among supporters of political Islam and jihad, particularly members of ISIS, though its use does not necessarily signal extremism.[8]

In Arabic, the index or fore finger is called musabbiḥa (مُسَبِّحة), mostly used with the definite article: al-musabbiḥa (الْمُسَبِّحة). Sometimes also as-sabbāḥa (السَّبّاحة) is used.[7] The Arabic verb سَبَّحَ - which shares the same root as the Arabic word for index finger - means to praise or glorify God by saying: "Subḥāna Allāh" (سُبْحانَ الله).

Ancient Roman Use

The Romans were considered the index finger as the "sword finger" because the index finger indicating the enemy is in sight.

Gestures in art

As an artistic convention, the index finger pointing at the viewer is in the form of a command or summons. Two famous examples of this are recruiting posters used during World War I by the United Kingdom and the United States.

Britons Lord Kitchener wants you
Recruitment poster, Alfred Leete, 1914
Uncle Sam wants you
Recruitment poster, James Montgomery Flagg, 1917

The index finger pointing up is a sign of teaching authority. This is shown in the depiction of Plato in the School of Athens by Raphael.[9]

Plato detail from the School of Athens
Plato, detail from the School of Athens, Raphael, 1509
The School of Athens
The School of Athens, Raphael, 1509
Detail from The Creation of Adam, a fresco painting by Michelangelo
A detail from The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo, 1512

See also


  1. ^ "forefinger - definition of forefinger in English Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries English. Retrieved 2017-06-08. 
  2. ^ "first finger - definition of first finger in English Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries English. Retrieved 2017-06-08. 
  3. ^ Gary Imai. "Gestures: Body Language and Nonverbal Communication" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 31, 2010. Retrieved 12 November 2009. 
  4. ^ Day, Nicholas (26 March 2013). "Research on babies and pointing reveals the action's importance". Slate. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Kirchhofer, Katharina C.; Zimmermann, Felizitas; Kaminski, Juliane; Tomasello, Michael (2012). "Dogs (Canis familiaris), but Not Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), Understand Imperative Pointing". PLoS ONE. 7 (2): e30913. Bibcode:2012PLoSO...730913K. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030913. PMC 3275610Freely accessible. PMID 22347411. Lay summaryScience Daily (February 8, 2012). 
  6. ^ Goodman, M.; Sterner, K. N.; Islam, M.; Uddin, M.; Sherwood, C. C.; Hof, P. R.; Hou, Z. C.; Lipovich, L.; Jia, H.; Grossman, L. I.; Wildman, D. E. (2009). "Phylogenomic analyses reveal convergent patterns of adaptive evolution in elephant and human ancestries". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106 (49): 20824–9. Bibcode:2009PNAS..10620824G. doi:10.1073/pnas.0911239106. JSTOR 40536081. PMC 2791620Freely accessible. PMID 19926857. Lay summaryWired UK (October 10, 2013). 
  7. ^ a b Drißner, Gerald (2016). Islam for Nerds - 500 Questions and Answers. Berlin: createspace. p. 521. ISBN 978-1530860180. 
  8. ^ Zelinsky, Nathaniel (3 September 2014). "ISIS Sends a Message: What Gestures Say About Today's Middle East". Foreign Affairs. Archived from the original on 12 August 2015. 
  9. ^ Brusati, Celeste; Enenkel, Karl A. E.; Melion, Walter (Nov 11, 2011). The Authority of the Word: Reflecting on Image and Text in Northern Europe, 1400-1700. Brill. p. 168. ISBN 9004215158. 

External links

Media related to Index finger at Wikimedia Commons