Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
Beginning of February, 2013
Note: this was written before I left Moab for a road trip to Arizona and California.
It picks up from the end of the previous posting, where the last thing I talked about was Wikipedia.
Pollical is the adjective for pollex.
Pollexis the formal anatomical term, in Latin, for the thumb.
Hallex, by the way, is the term for big toe.
A subject for another time, no doubt.
But this is about the thumb.
My thinking started with a split fingernail.
I got out the usual tools to repair the damage:
Nail clippers, nail file, Swiss Army Knife, Super Glue.
Then I noticed the shabby condition of the rest of my nails.
Soon, with a bath towel in my lap and tools at the ready I was settled down in my favorite chair to do nail maintenance while listening to Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion on NPR.
I don’t think I have ever really thought about my fingernails.
They’ve been there as long as I’ve been around.
I take them for granted.
They do their job – protect the ends of my fingers, scratch where it itches, serve as small screwdrivers and tweezers, get sticky labels and price tags off, and make rhythmic sounds on a hard surface when I’m nervous or annoyed.
But I’ve never really considered them and don’t really know much about them – they’re just there.
Later in the evening I turned to my computer, punched up “fingernails” on Wikipedia, and All I Really Wanted to Know About Nails was there.
You can do the same, if you are interested, so I’ll only report the facts that jumped out at me.
Nails are 7 to 12 percent water.
Made out of the same stuff as hair.
They grow an average of 0.12 inches a month.
And grow 4 times faster than toe nails.
They do not grow after death.
The longest set of nails – combining both hands – were grown by an American lady – a total of 28 feet – and still growing.
And a guy India has a thumb nail that is 4.8 feet long.
My own nails are vertically striated, which I always thought meant I had some esoteric disease or a special fate – something to puzzle over, but too small a matter to ask my doctor or palm reader about.
But there was a picture and a comment about the condition.
Normal – common in aging – no problem.
Information is useful.
Next I got a high-power magnifying glass and looked at my nails and fingers – concentrating on the thumb – my left pollex.
It sets me apart from most other creatures – an opposable digit.
My wife got sucked into this curiosity session, and soon we were comparing thumbs – size, thumbprints, and history of use.
So, back to the computer and Wikipedia.
Factoids of interest:
Thumbs have only two phalanges, not three.
Some people are born without them or with more than one on a hand.
And the diseases and anomalies of the pollex are mind-boggling.
You can see pictures of this stuff on Wikipedia.
Then there’s the social use of thumbs.
Expressing approval, disdain, dismissal, and – get this – in Iran the thumb is used like the middle finger in the west – Up Yours!
There’s a lot more.
And that’s what I’m really writing abut.
We take it for granted, now, but it’s a truly amazing phenomenon.
Having instant access to a wealth of useful information – free.
Provided by an unknown number of people I will never meet.
Edited and maintained and updated.
Simply out of a desire that good information be available to anybody who wants it, anytime, anywhere, in any language.
A few facts:
Operated by the non-profit Wikipedia Foundation.
Started by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in January, 2001.
24 million articles – 4.1 million in English.
Operates in 285 languages.
100,000 active contributors – all volunteers.
365 million active users.
Up to 60,000 page requests per second.
And all this handled by a very small operation in San Francisco.
How do I know all this?
If you use Wikipedia, think about contributing.
Don’t be an outsider – be an insider.
Add, edit, comment – it’s easy to take part.
And, above all, make a small financial contribution – that’s easy, too.
Go to Wikipedia . . .