HALLUX AND POLLEX
My whole life, I've been awkwardly calling the largest toe on my foot the "big toe". It never felt right, and I was always aggravated that the thumb had a special name but the big toe did not. Well, turns out there's a scientific word for both! The thumb is officially the pollex and the big toe is the hallux. The word hallux comes from the Latin word allus, which had the exact same meaning and derives from an unknown origin (but is likely Proto-Indo-European). Pollex, meanwhile, has nothing to do the Greek demigod or the star Pollux, but from a Latin word spelled exactly the same with the same definition. This quite possibly comes from the verb pollere, meaning "to be strong", which would have roots in the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction potis, meaning "owner". Usage of the word hallux is much more prominent that pollex, probably because we already have a word for the "thumb".
John J Crawford
1/2/2019 12:29:07 pm
In my Orthopaedic residency, we were taught that pollex derived from "broad and shield-like" which describes the thumbnail compared to the other digits. Did you find any reference to suggest this etymology?
1/2/2019 08:14:48 pm
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.