PINKIE FINGER: the fifth digit on the hand


When burly professional baseball player, Edwin Encarnacion, who plays for the Toronto Blue Jays, had to leave the Red Sox game on Friday night, it was because he had jammed a finger while sliding into a base.  The injury didn’t present a problem until he took a turn at the bat.  The force of hitting a foul ball sent him to the ground, and after evaluation he was led to the locker room and x-rays to determine what the severity of the injury might be.

In commenting on the injury, Red Sox commentators Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy made mention of the stress attributed to the pinkie finger of Encarnacion.  I smiled to myself, thinking, “What a silly term to use for such a rigorous and burly player.” 

The thought had barely escaped my mind when Jerry Remy asked Don, “Why do you suppose they call it a pinkie finger?”  There was a hint of the usual humor in Jerry’s voice, and I knew that he was reacting the same way as I had.  Somehow, it sounds like a “girlie” term and one not usually attributed to a professional athlete.   They continued to express ignorance about the derivation of the word, and somewhat agreed that maybe there ought to be a better way of describing it.

After all, we don’t refer to the little toe on our foot as the “pinkie toe.”  Wouldn’t that sound silly!

When the game was over (and the Red Sox had won!) I went to my digital dictionary and discovered that the term is possibly based upon the Dutch word pinkje, which is the diminutive for the word pinke, which means “little pink.”   I can wrap my head around that definition, which is obviously a northern European definition, not taking into account people of color.   But for the people of the Netherlands in the 19th century, it probably worked just fine.  There is a Scottish trail for the word, as well, it being the addition of the “ie” at the end of the word.  It is a common trait of Scottish English, such as in “laddie,” a term meaning a “little lad.”

In medicine, however, the term used to describe the pinkie finger is   the fifth metacarpal bone. That’s a little heavy for ordinary conversation, which is also known as the  fifth digit.  I could live with that, but it’s an unlikely candidate.   There are other names for other fingers on the hand.

The thumb, is after all, just another finger, although it has unique design and character.  And there is the pointer, a name given to the second digit.   The third digit, the bad boy of the hand, is most commonly referred to as just “the finger.”  And the fourth digit, especially on the left hand in the United States and the right hand in Europe, is “the ring finger,” known famously for housing the wedding ring.  So there is every reason to expect a name for the littlest of the digits.

But really?  Pinkie?  Can’t we do better than that?  How about “stub finger?”  Or maybe “outside finger?”  Maybe you have a suggestion which I can promote through this blog?  Let me know.

As for Edwin Encarnacion, I’m sure he could care less what it’s called.  It just hurts, and he’s probably bummed out that it means he’s out of the game for a short time. Hopefully, at least through the Red Sox series.  He’s one of the Jays’ best hitters.


Photo Credit:  Irene Duke

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