The Curious Case of the Stubby Thumb

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Photo: A BDD thumb (left) and a normal thumb (right)

by Rosa Lin/Medill News Service

“What happened to your thumb?”

“Did you accidentally smash it in the door?”

A thumb was outstretched in the circle of sixth-graders. It had a most peculiar shape, being relatively thin and normal near the base, and then suddenly capped off with a bulbous, short tip, reminiscent of a slightly flattened pearl onion.

The thumb belonged to 10-year old me.  And I was showing it off proudly among my bemused friends.

“See, the other one's like this too!” I stretched out its equally short and bulbous sister. Everyone gaped, laughed, and held the thumb up for inspection.

“You must've bitten your fingernails too often when you were little!”

“Did you jam your thumb playing basketball?”

Why, no, I was born this way. If you're like me, you probably fielded these questions in your youth and wondered whether anybody else in the world has thumbs like yours.

Wonder no more – these thumbs are known in scientific circles as brachydactyly type D, a type of thumb characterized by a shortened distal phalanx (the bone at the tip of the digit) – and we are about to plumb the history, prevalence, myths and genetic basis behind these thumbs.

Most people have a straight, upright thumb, with a nail bed equal to or longer than the nails on their fingers. Some people have a “hitchhiker's thumb” where the tip can bend back almost 90 degrees. Finally, a few people – from 0.10 to 3 percent of a population – have a shortened thumb, a feature colloquially known as club thumb, stub thumb, toe thumb, potter's thumb, hammer thumb and most unappealingly, murderer’s thumb. Fortunately the thumb has been christened neutrally by scientists as brachydactyly type D, so henceforth we shall stick with the designation BDD.

BDD was first characterized by fortune tellers practicing palmistry. According to Angelfire.com's page on Indian palmistry:

"The Murderer's Thumb Unveiled - The clubbed thumb was traditionally called the 'murderer's thumb' denoting the powerful temper of those who carried it. This thumb has a short first phalange (section) and is broad. The tip of the thumb is fleshy and the thumbnail is short and broad. According to those who know, people with clubbed thumbs [however] are strong willed and can control their emotions."

Such a description is rather more palatable than Palmistrylines.com's take:

"This thumb is in a shape of a club. People possessing this type of thumb are animalistic in nature and thought system. They bear brutality of Elementary type. They can harm or murder out of callousness. They lack premeditation and depth."

Ouch! This leads the meeker among the BDD carriers to wonder: why such a dark reputation among chirologists? For the record, chirologists are fortunetellers.

“When these [traits] started getting studied in the late 19th century … there was a push to link [physiological] traits with personality traits. There's no real scientific connection between BDD and any personality trait though,” said Dr. Nathaniel H. Robin, an active clinical genetics practitioner and professor at University of Alabama at Birmingham, who authored a paper on BDD.

BDD is so named because it is one of many traits of brachydactyly, the term given for shortened fingers and toes due to underdeveloped bones in hands and feet. For example, there is brachydactyly type A, where middle phalanges of one, several, or all of the fingers and/or toes are shortened; brachydactyly type B, where distal phalanges and nails of the fingers and/or toes are small or absent; and so forth up to type E. Usually brachydactyly is an isolated trait, meaning that it is not associated with other medical conditions and is generally harmless.

Contrary to what many people with BDD think, BDD “is a fairly common trait,” Robin said. It stays in the population because “it's a benign variant,” meaning it is neither advantageous nor detrimental to those that express the trait.

According to "Abnormal Skeletal Phenotypes," published in 2005 by Alessandro Castriota-Scanderbeg and Bruno Dallapiccola, two prominent radiologists, BDD occurs in 0.4 percent of whites and 0.1 percent of blacks in the United States, with a higher incidence in Israel (1.6 percent of Jews, 3 percent of Arabs) and Japan. In three-quarters of cases, BDD occurs bilaterally, which means it appears on both thumbs, while in the rest of the cases it only appears on one thumb, with the other thumb normal.

There is also a skew among genders. The pioneering human geneticist Julia Bell found in a 1951 study that 60 percent of those affected with BDD were female, while 40 percent were male. The geneticist Robert Stecher confirmed the preponderance for females in a 1957 study. The reason for this may be due to incomplete penetrance, a genetic term that means that a trait fails to express itself even though a person carries the necessary genes. In the BDD case, there is evidence to suggest that the trait has complete penetrance in females and incomplete penetrance in males. BDD is also an autosomal dominant gene, which means a person only needs to inherit it from one parent in order to express the trait.

In the past 10 years, scientists have been able to gain more insight into the genetic basis of BDD. In a 2003 study published in The American Journal of Human Genetics, researchers reported that two mutations in the gene HOXD13 may contribute to BDD.

So who has this trait? One of its most famous carriers is Megan Fox, an actress starring in the "Transformers" movies. She carries the trait on only one thumb, signaling incomplete penetrance. Due to her profile as a celebrity, discovery of her BDD thumb was highly publicized. Russian author and Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn is also purported to have at least one BDD thumb. Other people with the trait include: Malin Akerman (US actress), Tory Mussett (Australian actress), Ashley Lynn Cafagna (US actress), and Kristen van Der Noot (Germany DJ and model).

The most speculated of BDD carriers, however, is past European royalty. Despite valiant efforts, I did not find which royals exactly are implicated, so we shall briefly suspend any curiosity along those lines. The European royalty had higher than normal incidence of inbreeding due to a desire to keep their bloodlines “pure.” This resulted in any abnormality or mutation, such as hemophilia, reappearing in higher rates in descendents, instead of being flushed out by a set of significantly different genes. BDD is claimed by some to be a marker of descent from European royalty. However, as BDD occurs all around the world and is both the result of inheritance and random mutation, this, if true, would only apply to a small subset of those with BDD.

“I have no idea” if BDD is linked to European royalty, Robin said. “It may be true – I have no idea.”

At least I have an idea whether mine is linked to European royalty - I'm 100 percent East Asian!

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Comments

I always felt so uncomfortable about my thumbs.I am from a big family, 4 brothers and seven sisters. Although my siblings all have "perfect" hands, I have always been kind of the odd one cause of my thumbs. My dad has BDD thumbs too, but no one ever says anything to him or atleasts never notices his thumbs. After reading this article, I should probably feel some what proud I guess to be blessed to have thumbs like Megan Fox, but not really I still feel embarrassed. Many people always point my thumbs out and it just makes me feel low about myself but hopefully one day I will be able to expect my thumbs of how they are.

I'm Jewish and I have it in both thumbs. My friends keep telling me it's weird. May parents don't have thumbs like mine, but it's weird. The only time I notice it is when I'm playing the piano or flute.

I'm half Mexican and half Nicaraguan and I have two clubbed thumbs! My mom refers to them as toe thumbs haha I suppose I've always been proud of my different thumbs though xD

I have 2 of these thumbs and my big toes are simalir. Im so happy to know Im not alone! Everyone always comments on how my thumbs look like toes, I think its funny and am very proud of my thumbs.

i have short thumbs too, and

i have short thumbs too, and I was so ashamed as a kid I used to hide them all the time. now i don't care. my daughter also was ashamed. Her daughter likes her own short thumbs. And my daughter's other children, while not having the short thumbs that we do, have shorter than average thumbs. i know mine came from my father.

No one in my whole family has

No one in my whole family has this, abselutly no one. Though I have to "club thumbs" how this is possible? I dont know.. But do I mind? Of course not, I cant let people divine me just because of my thumb, and they are really handy with horse-riding cause in my opinion, they are rather powerfull so I can hold the reins better. Benefits! And not to forget something might not slip out your hand that easely because you have a wider thumb ;)

I am a 54 yr old woman with 2

I am a 54 yr old woman with 2 clubbed thumbs. No one else in my family has this, to my knowledge. I have always been embarrassed by this trait. I would say that most people really don't notice it, though. I have seen it on other people, but very rarely. I would not comment or compare thumbs as I don't want to draw any attention to my hands. I have 2 sons, neither has this trait.

I am in my late 40's and

I am in my late 40's and still do this I'm so embarrassed about my thumbs. My daughter just got one it doesn't bother her. I don't even care if people like me or not but my thumbs is another deal. I've been married to the same man and have never let him see them willingly. I don't know if he's ever noticed. I guess because when I was younger I was made a clown when a girl grabbed my thumb and yelled ooh she's deformed and everyone laughed. Still can't can't over it. Childish I know.

My thumbs always bothered me

My thumbs always bothered me especially when I play the piano and other instruments. Of course the nail salons always have been a pain. No one else in my family has these and the first thing I checked when I had my kids was their thumbs. Good thing they didn't get it.

Im three quarters Mexican and

Im three quarters Mexican and 1quarter scotch-irish im the only one on my mom's side to have two clubbed thumbs. I was teased a lot growing up because my hands in general are very small plus this little stub of a thumb ...it wasn't until last year when I was 23 and met my father for the first time that I saw where I got it. He had them on both hands and so did a female cousin of mine. As I've grown up I'm not really embarrassed of them too much..they've actually proven to be a good conversation starter! And im really intrigued to hear about the royalty theory...that would be fascinating! All though doubtful lol...glad to read other stubbie stories glad I'm not alone :-)

I have one Thumb very

I have one Thumb very pronounced BDD and the other not so much so. When kids would tease me, or ask me about it, I would tell them I had cut it off, so my big toe was transplanted. Some dolts actually believed it. I ran into a lady in Chicago who exclaimed 'you have Huguenot thumbs'; most likely a variant of the royalty line story. My mother had clubbed thumbs as well. I like my thumbs...makes me unique.

I'm joining the club! I have

I'm joining the club! I have one BDD thumb and one of my 3 brothers has 2 of them. None of my other relatives has them at all so we must inherit them from an ancestor way back. I, female, caucasian and Australian, used to get embarrassed about it growing up and I still (at 61 years of age) tuck my BDD thumb under my fingers when I'm with new people if my hand is resting somewhere visible. My best friend used to tease me about it. But she had a bulbous nose so I used to tease her about her nose. She now accepts her nose and I (almost) accept my BDD thumb!

I have 2 BDD thumbs and have

I have 2 BDD thumbs and have never been embarrassed about them . I am 62 half English and half Austrian and I know that my Austrian uncle also had 2 thumbs like mine. I looked up this trait and found this article after watching a programme on BBC4 that dissected a human hand to show how intricate it was and how the hand worked. A very interesting article thank you.

I have a stubby left thumb,

I have a stubby left thumb, am a white female, I am left-handed...sucked my thumb til I was 7. No problem with my teeth from this. Just a big o thumb. Is it still called BDD if it's from thumbsucking? It does not run in my family.

I also have two club thumbs .

I also have two club thumbs ..... Am female in 50s ...... With no other family members with the same trait.....have four sons and two grandchildren ..... None with club thumbs. Mother used to say she "didn't know where the thumbs came from" ....... I never thought too much about it, especially as a child. I have played piano all my life ..... And have bragged about how these thumbs can make such beautiful music. :-)

Only discovered the genetic component two years ago ..... Thanks to the Internet .....

Would love to meet others with same .....

Haha! This is great. I never

Haha! This is great. I never realized there was a name for my thumbs and that so many others have it too! My Ukrainian/Hewish grandpa had them as we'll as his 4 out of 9 kids, one of those was my mum. She has 2 as well, but in our family of 4 siblings only my oldest sister has 1 clubbed thumb and I'm the 3rd and got 2. The other 2 siblings have slim long thumbs. They never bothered me until I starred getting my nails done and the ladies at the salon had a hard time finding a nail that was a good fit for my acrylic nails. Also bowling is a challenge since only the heavy balls have big enough holes for my clubbed thumb to fit. And small craft sissors were never my favorite...other than that they function just as well:) my husband said that when he met me for the first time that was one of the first things he noticed, but that didnt stop him from marrying me:) glad to have all fingers and toes!!

All my life I have been

All my life I have been embarrassed about my thumb but now it is normal. I would tuck my thumb and try and hide it. My sister has 2 club thumbs I have 1 that is different. I wonder if it is a sign of your personality because we are both artistic. I am in my 40s and the next 40 years I can stop hiding my thumb. Great to hear other peoples comments!

I've been tucking my thumbs

I've been tucking my thumbs all my life since I was 10-years-old.  I am 71 now and still tuck it unless I am around people who know me.  It is so silly to be embarrassed, but can't help it, as people do look at them.  None of my family members including my children have this.  I always heard it was congenital and not heriditary, although I know a person who has 3 kids.  Her little girl has 2 of them, one of her sons has one of them.  She is thin, so her hands don't look as bad as I feel mine have always looked because my hands are chubby to begin with and my thumb is short and stubby.  Oh well, could have been a worse deformity.

Well well well...nice to know

Well well well...nice to know I'm not alone. I'm a white female in her mid fifties with a shorter right thumb. Perhaps its true...English Royalty...too funny. I believe my dads side is descended from the 8th Earl of Oxford, Edward De Vere...who, by the way, is the REAL Shakespeare. Probably more like descended from the bastard children of....quite a randy fellow it seems. I was told by a very good palm reader that it means I have tenacity... so true. Hi all you other BBDers. Try to remember that your body is only a temporary vessel that contains the real you...and the real you is infinitely beautiful.

My grandfather had these

My grandfather had these thumbs, passed down to my mother, then to my sister, brother, and myself. I LOVE my thumbs! We have always loved our thumbs! I am quite proud of them. I did get all those comments all through school, "What's wrong with your thumbs?" But it didn't bother me. They are great for backrubs too! I show them off whenever I can. :) A good icebreaker for conversation. Hahaha
Sadly though, my kids did not get them, grandkids either.....yet. I was really looking forward to passing it along through the family. I don't think my siblings' kids have them either. I guess the club stops here...... Maybe it will come back down the line.

I didn't really notice my

I didn't really notice my 'toe' thumbs were different until about middle school... My older sister pointed it out... So then everyone started making fun of me... My sister would tell complete strangers, my mom said it was because i constantly bit my nails... So i started hiding them. I wouldn't let my boyfriend hold my hand because i didn't want him to see... So i am still EVERY self conscious about them... I didn't even want to go to get a manicure... But i personally don't care, i just dont want people to see my flaws

I have BDD in both thumbs and

I have BDD in both thumbs and I think theyr'e cute! I show them to everyone! haha I am unsure of who has this and who doesn't in my family, but I do know that my daughter has regular size thumbs. The only other person Iv'e met with short thumbs like mine is my best friend since I was 10. She has one thumb and both of her big toes, where mine is both thumbs and I have normal size toes. It definitely is interesting though to find out it is more common in women... and interesting to know that Megan Fox has it too!

This article and the

This article and the subsequent posts were a revelation! I have one club thumb and always thought it was a deformity unique to me. I have always been embarrassed by it and have never had my nails manicured' because of it.  In every photo of me, I have my thumb tucked safely under my fingers and out of sight. It's so nice to know that it's a recognised condition. I'm 48 years old and have never seen anyone else with this condition! Nice to meet all you 'clubbers' out there!!

Thanks for this article! I'm

Thanks for this article! I'm 40 yr old white British woman and have two stumpy thumbs! I didn't really think anything of them until school kids started to comment when I was about 10, then I realized I was "special"! I have been a bit self concious of them since and still try to tuck them away if my hands are on show. I can identify with the problem of finding a bowling ball with thumb holes large enough that I can still lift! Apparently I got my thumbs from my grandfather on Mums side. Have two kids but neither seem to have them. Hubby will point out when we have occasionally seen other fellow stumpies out and about. So glad I now know that it's a recognised genetic condition! Have had false nails done in the past (although had to squeeze on the widest tip available!) which I think helped to disguise my wide thumb nails by adding a slight extra curve to the surface of the nail. 

Makes me feel a bit better about my thumbs to hear people like Megan Fox have them too! Fergie (Black Eyed Peas) has also talked about being self conscious about her "small hands" so not sure if that could be a similar condition?

(Typed on phone using fingers since big thumbs make it hard to hit the right letters!)

Have two clubbers myself

Have two clubbers myself never thought of them as a problem was never bullied over them ,every thing else but my boys as I call them. German mother west indian father not sure where the royalty bit comes in there. My husband loves my thumbs , but i have not passed the trait on to  my children or grandchildren, well they cant have everything I suppose, they have my sense of humour what more do they want. My thumbs now royalty mentioned lol

I wonder how many people with

I wonder how many people with with BDD are artists, like me, or nurses...I wonder if we gravitate more to certain occupations than others....what fun it would be to do a study on this...

one thing our thumbs do is measure the depth of other people's character- how shallow they are in their judgements about others!

i have both my thumbs like

i have both my thumbs like this and I got bullied in 5th grade I'm a freshman right now  so I try to hide them and I get so emberresed when someone asks to see them it makes me want to cry because I got bullied before but I'm glad I found this maybe I'll be a little more confident prob ably not lol 

I was watching tv and a

I was watching tv and a clubbed thumb was mentioned ,i have always been told mine was because i sucked my thumb. Like others always tried to hide it, normally ball my fists with thumb inside. Couldnt sleep tonight, so thou g ht i would look it up. Always called mine my hammer thumb.

Very interesting.

I am half Native American

I am half Native American with French thrown in that blood line. The other half no clue. Dad says hienz 57. I state that because I'm wondering how much heritage has to play in this. I have both thumbs clubbed. My middle son inherited this trait on one. I'm a hider. I find it very difficult to type on my smart phone. Always hitting the letter next to the one I want. My nail is almost an inch wide. I find it very helpful to measure things out in inches. I heard the horrible comments my whole life. no I did not suck my thumb. I always said if I had enough money and if they could do it, I'd have plastic surgery on them. I stopped getting my nails done due to humiliation of them not having a thumb nail wide enough for me. As most of you, I had no clue there was a name for this.  It doesn't make me feel any better. I admire those who have accepted their vice. I am 47 and still haven't accepted it. Probably because of all the teasing, the people who will just grab your hand and yell to others look at this!  Even my kids used to say something about them and I have 5 children.  I guess this article hit a nerve with me and I apologize if I over stepped. To the people who make fun of others and myself with BDD, and ive said this for years, at least they work and I have thumbs. One last note, I was told my Native American/French blood line can be traced to royality from Wales. 

Hi Gina,  I am 71 and have

Hi Gina,  I am 71 and have been embarrassed by my 2 clubbed thums and fat hands since I was 10.  I am French and German.  They kept me from doing anything where people would see my hands and when I worked in front of people where they could see my hands, it was almost disabling and I made mistakes.  No one in my family has them.  None of my children have them.  I thought it was a congenital deformity, but if it is heriditary, sure is not any of it in my immediate family, except my oldest son was born with clubbed feet.  Otherwise they all have beautiful normal thumbs.

I am the only one in my Irish

I am the only one in my Irish-English-Scots family with an unusual thumb! 

As a child the up-side was that learning "left" from "right" was easy for me.  Perhaps this is where I got the idea to use a crutch or familiar connection to remember something new.   Even now I  look at or move my thumbs when thinking "left" or "right", but only in English, not other, studied languages. 

Early on I was told that thumb-sucking was the cause of this misshapen thumb.  Later, I was also told that this kind of thumb was associated with mathematical ability.  That's much more constructive than the idea of a propensity for murder!

The only problems I've encountered are with unwieldy bowling balls and artificial nails, not rude or insensitive people! 

I have two "strangler's

I have two "strangler's thumbs", as they were referred to. I was born in Germany - and the only one known in my family to be so "mis-shapen". As a child and teen I simply hated them and would hide them under the next page when reading a book in public ----- on a train ----- etc. To make it worse - the rest of my hands/fingers are long and very well shaped. It was always so revealing when I attended a masquerade ball at carneval time in my youth and when considering the costum I usually made sure to somehow hide my thumbs, like wearing gloves, because you did not want to be recognized before the masques were taken off at Midnight. However, once I grew into an adult, like so many other hang-ups, it no longer bothered me and is always a source of conversation. Thanks - I came across this site - and enjoyed the comments.

I am 71.  I started noticing

I am 71.  I started noticing my thumbs were different when I was about 10 years old.  No one in my immediate family has them.  My 4 sons do not have them, except our first son was born with bilateral club feet.  They have always embarrassed me even today and stopped me from doing a lot in my life which my hands would be noticed.  I heard it was congenital and not heriditary.  But, they always worked ok.  What makes it look worse to me is that my hands are also chubby, and my thumbs are short and fat, which makes them look worse.  I always used to look at people's thumbs and when I started seeing a lot of people with this problem, at least did not feel fully deformed.  My kids and my husband always brought my "fat thumbs" to peoples attention and it hurt me for a while to where I hid them, but as I get older, am getting over this, but still hide them around people I don't know, because I see them noticing them.  I always thought I was supposed to be a dwarf or sucked my thumbs in the womb.  I have seen a few people who have them and their kids have either one or two, but no one, again, in my family has them.

Both of my thumbs are

Both of my thumbs are brachydactyly. I always get embarrassed when people draw attention to them but I'm starting to love them. So far I haven't met anyone with them. I'm Australian but my family all goes back to England, I now like to think of myself as royalty. :)

I'm 52 and have 2 stubby

I'm 52 and have 2 stubby thumbs. I've been a nail-biter since I was 3 years old and that has drawn more attention to them. I was very self-conscious of the when I was younger. As a 20 year-old, I was at a night club in Myrtle Beach when a boy came up to me and asked, "Why do you have frying-pan thumbs?" I was so embarrassed and shocked at the time I was speechless. It felt terrible. Now I think about it and laugh at his rudeness and if that was a pick-up line, I bet he's still alone! I love my thumbs now even though people look at them curiously. I'll tell people what the are called, what some rude jerk called them and then tell them about Megan Fox! Thanks for this article and nice to see replies from so many of the other 0.5 to 3% of us! 

I have stub thumbs, too!

I have stub thumbs, too! Throughout elementary school me and one of my friends used to make comics about them called 'The Adventures of Tubby the Toe Thumb'. They've always been really embarrasing and have been the source of (a lot of) taunting in elementary/middleschool... I think the worst part is barely being able to wear gloves - escpecially the latex kind! I'm currently in high school, and people still make a big deal out of them. I've never met anyone with the same thumbs as me, to it's cool to see al the comments!

Fascinating article, my

Fascinating article, my daughter has one thumb like this which we didn't even notice until my husband's cousin saw it and laughed and said her mum had that same thumb and was pleased that none of them had it. (She wasn't being mean, I think they teased their mum). My daughter loves her thumb and just thought everyone's thumb was like that.

I'm so happy to read a

I'm so happy to read a million comments of people who love how their thumbs are. It makes me smile knowing not everyone is as crueol as the people I'm surrounded by.

Unfortunatley i hate my thumbs. im very self-counsious of them to and they lower my self-esteem. People alwasy point them out and ask what happend... but nothing happend. i was born like that... no one in my family has them, just me, not even distant family. either way i hide them and when people ask i say thats the way they are, then avoid that person until i can forget the horrible expierence, but i never can.

i have few friends who i am comfortable with and some still dont know about them. some like them, others not so much.

in the end i wish i didnt have them,, but i dont think id be able to live without them, theyre a part of me and just show my individuality even better. im happy im not alone and im happy you guys arent to!

I'm 20 years old and I have

I'm 20 years old and I have only discovered there is an actual name for having one thumb that is short and stubby. I just thought it was some kind of developmental error. It hasn't caused me any harm though and only annoys me when I can find a proper ball to bowl with. I don't have any relatives that I know of with the condition though. Neither of my parents seem to have it.

I have two short thumbs. My

I have two short thumbs. My mother only has one. I don't remember ever being embarassed by them, there was one other girl in school who had them as well. I think I must have just thought I was special or unique. Or maybe I was more worried about a big scar on my leg than my thumbs. I call them turtle thumbs. The guys I've dated have thought they were cute. I think if you own them and don't act like they bother you then people won't have any fuel to make fun of you for them. So be proud! They make you special!

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