Get your thumb out...

Posted by Keith Rennie on November 30, 2004

In Reply to: Get your thumb out... posted by ESC on November 30, 2004

:("Thumb in the bum time") : Anybody else come across this nice one? Refers to a sudden life or death crisis where you should avoid panic and take advantage of any short time available before action.

: : I think it's a WW II RAF fighter pilot/instructor expression--your plane is hit, but don't panic (avoid soiling your underpants by sticking your thumb up your bum) and meanwhile take a few seconds to work out your best course of emergency action.

: : Anybody add to that?

: : Love the site!

: : Keith Rennie

: All I can add is that in the United States, a person is urged to take his or her thumb OUT and get on with whatever needs to be done.

Oh, this is not just USA (delighted to learn it is known here too), this usage is at least also UK and southern Africa, and I think ANZAC as well. Its the same usage, same origin. It just means that the thumb in the bum time is NOW DEFINITIVELY OVER, CHAPS, only the phrase you cite has been slightly panelbeaten (sorry, bodyshopped) by omitting to mention from what unspeakable body part the thumb is to be removed, in order to make it speakable in polite company. Which geog. distribution (including the US since the Allied pilots mixed a great deal) makes me think that it has the same RAF instructor origin-(or did the Brits borrow it from "the Yanks"?). (My old and beloved scuba diving instructor had previously been an RAF fighter pilot and flying instructor and I got it from him). But there might be a (lower socio-economic class) army equivalent too: I seem to remember explicit "get yer thumbs out of yer [f-word]*ing ar**-****s" as fairly common exhortation there too.

By the way, wartime dialectical differences within the British army, ordinary ranks being more working class on the whole than the more upper or upper-middle class RAF, meant that some regiments had to have official translators, e.g. so the Aberdonians and the Cockneys could understand each other. Seriously. I witnessed examples of such total mutual incomprehension in the immediate post war years. swear words were the most mutually comprehensible common currency. Sometimes the only words that were heard.