from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A screw designed so that it can be turned with the thumb and fingers.
  • n. An instrument of torture formerly used to compress the thumb.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A screw that can be turned with the thumb and fingers
  • n. An instrument of torture used to crush the fingers

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A screw having a flat-sided or knurled head, so that it may be turned by the thumb and forefinger.
  • n. An old instrument of torture for compressing the thumb by a screw; a thumbkin.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A screw having a broad head, or a plate projecting from the head, so that it may be turned easily by the finger and thumb.
  • n. An instrument of torture by which one or both thumbs were compressed so as to inflict great agony without danger to life.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. screw designed to be turned with the thumb and fingers
  • n. instrument of torture that crushes the thumb


Sorry, no etymologies found.


  • The thumbscrew was a little thing, but caused great agony.

    The Children's Book of London

  • The first was a kind of thumbscrew; the second was a frame in which the leg was inserted, and in which it was broken by wedges driven in by a hammer; the third was also an iron frame for the leg, which was from time to time heated over a brazier.

    The Necessity of Atheism

  • About the definition of “torture”, I can see a need for scrutiny, since the real debate (pace His Andrewship) isn’t over whether the rack and the thumbscrew are acceptable methods of questioning but whether waterboarding, sleep deprivation and raucous music belong in the same odious category.

    How Many Amnestied Aliens Can Dance in the Nib of a Pen?

  • It was at one time believed that there was something miraculous in the oath, that it was a kind of thumbscrew that would torture the truth out of a rascal, and at one time they believed that if a man swore falsely he might be struck by lightning or paralyzed.

    The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Volume VIII. Interviews

  • There was a machine called the piniwinkies -- a kind of thumbscrew, which brought blood from under the finger nails, with a pain successfully terrible.

    Short Studies on Great Subjects

  • The relevance of the thumbscrew analogy is that we have yet to find equivalent tools in modern society to dial back to a dull roar many of the noisy challenges that our "operators" are dealing with every day.

    Frank A. Weil: Time to Scale Back

  • Despite daily requests, Steinberg's library refused to lend prisoners copies of The 48 Laws of Power, the book about survival skills reportedly beloved of some of America's top rappers – perhaps unsurprisingly for a manual which counsels you to "conceal your intentions" and "discover each man's thumbscrew."

    Memoir reveals prisoners' book preferences

  • From the thumbscrew to the rack to the boring insects to the electrode to the waterboard, amazing human ingenuity and energy have been devoted to inflicting pain.

    Eric L. Lewis: Cheney, the CIA and Torture: Asking the Wrong Questions

  • Mary was living in a perfect miniature geodesic dome of hazel rods joined at the intersections of the hexagons by starfish of copper plumbing pipe flattened at the centre and held together by a thumbscrew nut and bolt.


  • Using a cheap spring clamp and a simple thumbscrew that fits into the bottom camera mount, six million dollar man built this extremely simple but very effective camera mount.

    Dead-Simple Camera Clamp Mount | Lifehacker Australia


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