The “no-name finger”

No, this is not a post about “giving someone the finger”. Rather it is about the names Koreans have assigned to each finger on the hand.
Each of the fingers has a name in Korean just like they do in English and many other languages.
The Korean word for ‘finger’ is 손가락 and the individual names are composit names including 손가락. However, there are also names based on the Chinese character 지 (指) which means ‘finger’.

엄지손가락 / 대지 ~ thumb
집게손가락 / 장지 ~ index finger
가운뎃손가락 / 중지 ~ middle finger
약손가락 / 무명지 ~ ring finger
새끼손가락 / 소지~ little finger

Let’s try to look more closely at the different names and their underlying 한자:

The thumb ~ 대지
대 (大) ~ big
지 (指) ~ finger
That makes sense…

Index finger ~ 장지
장 (長) ~ long
지 (指) ~ finger
This one surprised me a little since it’s not the longest of the fingers.

Middle finger ~ 중지
중 (中) ~ middle, center. This is the same 중 that you find in 중국 (中國) ~ China (the Middle Kingdom)
지 (指) ~ finger
This is not a too surprising name considering the finger’s position on the hand.

Ring finger ~ 무명지
무 (無) ~ nothing, absent, no, none
명 (名) ~ name
지 (指) ~ finger
It’s a no-name-finger!
These are also the 한자 characters that the word 무명 ~ anonymous, unnamed are based on.
I did not see this one coming…

Little finger ~ 소지
소 (小) ~ little
지 (指) ~ finger
Again one that makes sense.

It’s a bit of a curiosity, but for some reason the ring finger got passed over when the others got named back in the days. Nowadays it’s mostly known as the 약손가락, which I thought was related to the fact that you usually make a promise to someone by wearing a ring on that finger. But now that we’re already puzzled by the ring finger, notice that the 약- in 약손가락 is not the 약- you find in 약속 (約束) ~ promise, engagement. Actually, it’s the 약- you find in 약 (藥) ~ medicine. So the ring finger is also a “medicine finger”. I still haven’t figured out why this is the case, but I am on it! If one of you knows, please share!

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3 thoughts on “The “no-name finger”

  1. Pingback: Weekly Roundup 14/4 | sydneytoseoul

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