Posted by R. Berg on March 26, 2001
In Reply to: Get your finger out? posted by NeilB on March 25, 2001
: : : : It actually means to get on with something but where did it come from - anyone know?
: : : According to "A Dictionary of Catch Phrases American and British," by Eric Partridge, revised by Paul Beale, "take (or pull or get) your finger out" originated about 1930 in the Royal Air Force and was adopted in 1941 or 1942 by the British army. The first edition of Partridge's book had the meaning as "Stop scratching your backside and get on with the job." The revised edition, having been enriched by further scholarship, offers a different meaning as the accurate one. It has to do with couples rather than individuals.
: : To pull your finger out is to hurry, to get a move on. This is another nautical saying and comes from the times of the Men'o'War. When the cannon were loaded a small amount of powder was poured into the ignition hole near the base of the weapon. In order to keep the powder secure before firing, a crew member pushed a finger into the hole. When the time came for ignition, the crewman was told to pull his finger out
: OK, I'll go with the nautical expanation but.....cannon gunners wore a leather thumb cover. When the cannon was being sponged out (to ensure there were no burning embers left) the cheif gunner would put his leather clad thumb over the touch hole. This prevented sparkes being expelled and fires resulting. So wouldn't the expresssion been - 'get your thumb out?'
Partridge's full explanation (the nonnautical one) is more credible than the reduced version here. I omitted some material for reasons of decency.