A bunch of fives


What's the meaning of the phrase 'A bunch of fives'?

‘A bunch of fives’ is a slang term for a fist, especially one used for punching. The fives are the four fingers and the thumb.

What's the origin of the phrase 'A bunch of fives'?

The phrase appears in print in 1825, in Charles Westmacott’s satirical novel The English Spy:

“…came up to the scratch and floored many a youkel with their bunch of fives.”

It is also reported as appearing, slightly earlier, in Boxiana by Pierce Egan, 1821. Boxiana is a classic work on boxing history and folklore, and just the place to look for such a reference, but it isn’t easy to obtain copies of it these days, and I can’t confirm that attribution.

However, ‘a bunch of fives’ does certainly derive from early boxing terminology. The ‘scratch’ referred to in Westmacott’s story is the line that boxers were brought up to, to face each other at the start of a match. The early 1800s saw the invention of the boxing glove, which later became mandatory under the Queensbury Rules in 1867. In the 1820s bare-knuckle fighting was still commonplace and the ‘fives’ were the weapon of choice.

Trend of a bunch of fives in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.