The Curious Case of the Stubby Thumb


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'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'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!




I am 48 and finding this info for the first time. Both thumbs have BDD and bend back 90 deg. I still am made fun of. Most are freaked out by my thumbs so it is so nice to read from others. I have only met 2 other people one man and one woman in my whole life that had BDD. I had a teacher that would hold my hands in the air and play puppets with them. Surely embarrassing. Doesn't bother me anymore though.

I have one club thumb and my sister and niece have them also. They have always been a source of emarrassment so I am glad to know there is actually a name for it! I gave asked several doctors about it in the past and none has ever seen s thumb like mine! It's hard to use a bowling ball though because my thumb doesn't fit most 10 pound balls!

I used to tell people that I was born without thumbs and the baby was born stillborn and only its toes would fit my joint. They would all look for the scar and say ohhh yeah there it is. *roll my eyes*. haha

I love my thumbs and always have. One person in every generation on my dads side has them and I got lucky. The only time I didn't like them was when I went to get fake nails put on. The little asian lady doing my nails started speaking in a foreign language to her co-worker showing her my thumbs. I felt like Elaine in the one episode of Sienfield. I'm not an idiot "What am I supposed to put on these things" kinda translates hahaha

I once was in

Hi, The article about clubbed thumbs are informative and thinkable. Any way, I am having two identical club/shubby thumbs. But never come across any such event such as animalistic / murderer / negative attitude on me.
Sardar Basha

Finally! 49 years old and I finally know why I have 2 short stubby thumbs and what it is called. Yay!

I'm finnish (male) and i have two of these "clubbed thumbs". I always thought that i'm the only person in the world who has these thumbs and i thought there's something wrong with me... :D but thank you so very much for this awesome and informative post!:)

I'm mixed, black and white, and nobody on either side of my family has my thumbs. I have two clubbed ones instead of just one and people are always wanting to see my thumbs! They say its the cutest thing they've ever seen and they always ask me if theyre deformed or if I smashed them in a door or something

I have bilateral BDD...I was often made fun of as a kid but grew to love my strange little thumbs :) My dad has them, but none of my three siblings I herniated them. They're sturdy and were a boon during submission grappling with pressure points in my martial arts classes!

Wow, man. You'll be amazed to know that I visited this page researching palmistry. I don't have BDD thumbs, but I've seen a few people with them. You're article is nothing but the most delightful food for thought for today!

Hi Jackie, if you see this. I have only my right thumb that's BDD as well. I guess we're even more rare :) My mother has 2 and one of my friends has 2. My English teacher in high school had only her left as BDD. These are all the people I've even known that have them. It's so good to read about others here!

I too have two short, hitch hiking thumbs ala BDD. My mum has them without the hitch hiking. Grandpa had a pair too. Mine are the most extreme. Of my two daughters, neither hitch hike, but both of them seem to have shrinking thumbs - the older they get, the shorter and stumpier they appear!! Grandpa's family were predominantly Irish - doubt they'd claim European Royalty - perhaps there's an "unusual skeleton" in the wardrobe!!
Thanks for your insights

Thx a bunch! I was looking for information about clubbed thumb, my friend will be so happy to hear that he is related to european royalty :)

Oh my goodness u thought I was alone!! NY stumpy thumb was always a source of freight when people noticed it for the first time. I ALWAYS get "did you used to suck on your thumb when you were little?" Ugh! No I was born like this was always my reply. Thank you for sharing!

I inherited two stubby thumbs from my mom's two stubby thumbs. I think I'm lucky to have them identically cut short because I like being symmetrical:) I am of German heritage and there were rumors of our family being of royalty at some point, I don't know if it is accurate. I started searching this while pondering the idea of making 'how to' videos on making things, then wondering what kind of comments I would get on my thumbs not looking normal. Well, I guess I'll see:) Also, I have seen more stubby thumbs on other people than I ever would have imagined! They are not so rare afterall.

After years of thinking it was just me i finally feel so much better - The years of being teased at school "Toe Thumb, Toe thumb Stick Up Your Bum" If only I known this back then. I've learned to love my "Special Thumb" now and will proudly tell all a little more about it - Can't believe i haven't googled this before.

I am Jewish and was born with this condition on both thumbs. In fact, I can recall my babysitters teasing me about it as a child (gosh, that wasn't very nice!). My memories of being made to feel different go back that far, then all thru grade and high school. I also have a shortened 3rd toe on one foot. Must all be related. No one in my immediate family has thumbs like I do. I didn't know my grandfather very well as he passed away when I was a toddler, but looking at photos of him I can see that he may have had the condition in his thumbs too. So, while we wont be hand models any time soon (unless we change society's version of what is considered "perfection"), it's nice to know we're not alone. Thanks, all.

My Lebanese partner has 1 clubbed thumb, as do almost all of his family members male and female.I have always wondered if this might have anything to do with his parents and grandparents all marrying full blood cousins (common in the generation before his, in his neck of the woods) His 2 sons from a previous marriage also have this condition. Strange...

I only just thought to Google my thumbs! I like the idea of being descended from royalty.

I only have one thumb like this and I think it's my own feature which gives me my personality. I get asked questions like "why is it like that" or "does it hurt" and I really love it.
I find it weird how most people have two I them!
I only have one! Lol

I HAVE THE SAME EXACT TYPE OF THUMBS, BOTH OF THEM ARE LIKE THIS. I thought I was abnormal or something. This is crazy lol I feel better now because I know I'm not the only person in the world with this. People would ask me all the time why my thumbs were like this and "not normal" and I never could give them an answer because I honestly had no clue as to why my thumbs were like this. One day I decided to just google some tags that would describe my thumbs and sure enough this came up. I was so happy and I literally freaked out because I finally knew!

After reading this article, I knew us "Thumbers" needed a place to hang out online, so I created, please come on over and lets get the discussion started! It is a new site and we need people like us!

Looks like Frieda's guy had a lucky escape :D Just as well my boyfriend didn't cast me off so easily. We've been happily married for 38 years now despite me not being 'good breeding material' with my one different thumb. None of my children or grandchildren have my thumb. But I hope Frieda finds someone as perfect as herself.

I'm 21 and both of my thumbs are like this. Everyone always calls them "toe thumbs". I am the only one in my family that has them and when my son was born, that was one of the first things I checked for. He however doesn't have them either. A girl I went to high school with had one thumb like it. I'm glad I'm not a mutant alone!

My mom always told me an elephant stepped on my thumb and it gave me the biggest complex! My boyfriends had to hold my left hand because my club thumb was on my right hand. Now I have a daughter who has two thumbs like mine and a niece who has two like mine! I always thought there was something wrong . . bowling is tough but life is sweet knowing I have something of a novelty . . .two different thumbs!

OMG... I just discovered I had this kind of thumb today!!! I have this kind of thumb on both hands. Is there something wrong with having this kind of thumb? And being descended from royalty? Wow, that's cool! I'm 100% Chinese though...

i am 100% native american and i have two of these thumbs...

i am 22 years old and my whole life i have been embarrassed of them...

I have them too.. I always hid them when I was younger. I was scared no boys wouldlike me! My husband says they are cute though. 1st thing I check when Ive had my babies is their thumbs! Id rather they didnt get them because I was so self conscious of them. Now as an adult now I don't care what people think.

I noticed Liam Neeson's thumb in "Taken 2" which led me to research this phemnome...interesting!

I'm another one. I don't think I have anything to do with European royalty since I'm 100% Chinese! My parents don't have them but my dad's cousin has them. I grew up with some comments and laughs about my clubbed thumbs. I still feel embarrassed and wish I had normal thumbs. It's great to learn about my physical flaws scientifically!

I have 2 clubbed thumbs. I am Dutch. No one in my immediate family has them, but my mother noticed upon a trip to Holland to visit family that one of her uncles has them. They really don't bother me at all, though my brothers love to tease me about them. ;) I am a court reporter, so they obviously work just fine!

I have two stubby thumbs and as a little girl I would fold my thumbs into the palms of my closed hands to hide them. Growing up I treated them as normal and they have served me well but even now that I am 67 years old I still find myself automatically closing my other fingers around them.

OMG I'm 46 and never knew this was an actual defined condition. I have one toe thumb and am the only person I know with this, I just always thought it was just some little quirk I had, but yesterday a friend noticed and said hey you have murderers thumb so I looked it up. Its never ever bothered or embarrassed me, and I just thought I'd been born with a toe on my hand instead of a thumb. Fascinating.

I'm 14 and both of my thumbs are like this. I've always felt so out of place with them. Out of the blue, I just found this article and I've been smiling and laughing like an idiot because the thumb in the picture looks just like mine. I've never seen anyone with the same thumbs as me. This is so great! I don't feel like an alien anymore! :)

My grandmother had one, her son - my uncle has two, I have two and other aunt's granddaughter has two - every generation only one person got it ;)

I have 2 clubbed thumbs, and today is the first time I have ever heard that term, I really thought I was the only one! My dad is 100% Filipino, My Mom's mom is from portugal and my Mom's dad is from the united states. I don't know where my thumbs came from but I think my son has them too, and hes half mexican

Hi I'm Shayla and I have two clubbed thumbs. Neither of my parents have clubbed thumbs and I do. I noticed Megan Fox's thumbs in the Transformer's movies and freaked out. My last name is Fox, so is hers and we both have clubbed thumbs. SO my dad did some digging and found out that Megan Fox and I are distantly related. People at school are definitely interested in my thumb and yeah. Someone I know calls my thumb "the nub." Well anyways I'm super happy that I know something about why my thumb is the way it is now :).

i have a friend who has these thumbs... both symetrical and also he has his 2 big toes the same, half size to his other oes, is this also BDD?
I see that there are no actual replies here, hoping someone will mail me.
Thank you

Im 11yrs from new zealand and i have 2 of those thumbs i love them because im not the same as everyone else the oly problem is i fail at thumb wars cause their to short :,C

I have both clubbed thumbs. I guess I'm unique ;) and I have been researching to find out everything.

Stumbled across this page today. I have two club thumbs. I didn't know there was a medical term for this until now. I just thought my thumbs were unusually shaped. Good to know there are so many others. I've been asked if I have toes attached to my hands, but that's the worst I've ever heard. I really don't think about it much except when I get a manicure and the nail person makes a face when they notice it.

I also always thought my thumbs were weird and was mildly embarrassed by them growing up. Now I'm kind of pleased to be different. No one else in my family has them that I know of and I too check all the new babies in the family for funny thumbs but so far, none. them. Does anyone else here with 'funny' thumbs have trouble texting? LOL I do. I have to use a stylus.

Yep, I do have trouble

Yep, I do have trouble texting sometimes. I only have one clubbed thumb on my right hand. Newer touchscreen technology has gotten more accurate but sometimes my right thumb trips me up when I'm texting! Haha. 

I'm the only one on both sides of my family that has stubby thumbs and a lot of times it's made me feel very uncomfortable, especially while going through school when someone would point them out and (inevitably) end up stopping class for a thumb examination. It makes me feel better knowing that I'm not the only one with stubby thumbs.

I have one of these thumbs and only just learnt it had a name. I once asked a doctor who didn't have much to say about it. Mine makes a clicking sound when I bend it ... Just another party trick. I have dutch blood lines.

i also have these thumbs its quiet annoying i cant evan wear fake nails because it looks wierd good to no you guys have the same,is their any way i can wear fake nails without them looking wirrd?

I only have it on one thumb,

I only have it on one thumb, so getting nails put on looks extra extra weird on me! What I've done mostly is to not make it as long as the other fake nails because then the width of the nail becomes really really obvious, and never ever never ever do a French manicure, it just doesn't work on that finger lol.

Hi, I used to get French

Hi, I used to get French manicures professionally (pink and white solar nails). I only have one clubbed thumb. What'd I'd do is ask the nail tech to make the clubbed thumb nail just as long as my other nails and to taper the end of the nail to be more rounded and less square. It made it much less more noticeable even though the nail tech seemed to think it was strange that I wanted the length and shape different than the other nails. It was a battle every time I got them done for awhile. I'd suggest just asking for both of your thumb nails to be longer and more tapered than the rest of your Nails. 


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