When we learn how to count before we hit kindergarten, we count on our fingers and in groups of tens. We have five fingers on each hand, so it just makes sense that, as human beings, we count like this. If someone had three fingers, then perhaps they would count in groups of six.
This is where digit came from, originally meaning finger, and now number. This is also where digital comes from, storing information in the form of numbers.
However, we have to give it to the Old English language that has given us each of the fingers names. The index finger use to be towcher, or toucher, because we use it to touch things. But, this term didn’t come from running your finger down an index; the word index comes from the Latin word indicare because an index can indicate, or point, you in the right direction, whether it’s in a book or on your hand. We also call this the pointing finger.
The middle finger was called the fool’s finger. The Romans had called it digitus infamis (infamous), obscenus (obscene) and impudicus (rude) as they invented sticking the middle finger up at people they didn’t like. Roman poet, Martial, wrote:
Rideto multum qui te, Sextille, cinaedum
dixerit et digitum porrigito medium
Of you are called a poof don’t pause or linger
But laugh and show the chap your middle finger
The ring finger was once called the leech finger. In medieval medicine, doctors believed there was a vein that ran from your fourth finger to your heart. They wholeheartedly believed doing things to this finger could cure heart disease and treat heart attacks. Because medieval doctors believed this vein existed (it doesn’t, just in case you are wondering) meaning the heart and the finger closely connected, you can trap your lover’s heart by encircling this finger with a band.
What about the leech finger? The medieval doctor was called a leech. The practice of placing leeches on patients has no relation to why doctors were called this. Since leeches cured heart disease and treat heart attacks by the leech finger, they still placed leeches on their patients to cure other ailments.
The little finger was called the ear finger. Medieval people used that finger to scratch their ears. It does the job, so why not.