a golden thumb

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Thomas1

Senior Member
polszczyzna warszawska
He was a teller of dirty stories and a buffoon, and it was mostly of sin and obscenity. He knew well how to steal corn and take his toll of meal three times over; and yet he had a golden thumb, by God! He wore a white coat and a blue hood. He could blow and play the bagpipe well, and with its noise he led us out of town.
http://www.umm.maine.edu/faculty/necastro/chaucer/translation/ct/01gp.html

Hi, :)

The passage comes from a fourteenth century series of tales the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. The prologue (the part from which the quotation comes), tells about pilgrims who stay in an inn. It gives a general cross section of British society, and the fragment I cited is about a Miller.

I would like someone to confirm whether my guess that “a golden thumb” means a prosperous business is sound.

I am also interested to know whether the expression “a golden thumb” is used in English and if not whether the average English speakers are aware of it and what it means?


Thank you,
Tom
 
  • katie_here

    Senior Member
    England/English
    I'm an average English person ;) and I've never heard of it.

    I've heard of "The Midas Touch", everything you do is prosperous (about King Midas, because everything he touched turned to gold), and "The Golden Touch" which is basically the same, but never "The Golden Thumb".
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    There was apparently an old saying 'every honest miller has a thumb of gold' -- but authorities disagree what this meant. Some possible explanations:
    1) Honest millers were as rare as men with gold thumbs
    2) Successful millers had their "thumb on the scales" when weighing flour, and by cheating made themselves rich.
     

    Thomas1

    Senior Member
    polszczyzna warszawska
    Thanks to you both!

    From your answers I gather the saying is not in use in Modern English anymore.

    GWB, your both explanations seem to contain an element of a miller's being dishonest.
    Thus to my interpretation I would have to add this bit of "cheatishness".

    I have looked up "every honest miller has a thumb of gold" in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable 1898, where I found quite a vast entry on thumb. To my positive surprise I found there the very words by Chaucer (in original) I am asking about:
    Every honest miller has a thumb of gold. Even an honest miller grows rich with what he prigs. Thus Chaucer says of his miller— 5
    “Wel cowde he stelë and tollen thries, And yet he had a thomb of gold parde [was what is called an ‘honest miller’].”​
    Canterbury Tales (Prologue, 565).​
    http://www.bartleby.com/81/16481.html

    Tom
     
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