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Last updated at 16:11 GMT, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A slip of the thumb

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Mark Shea explains the origin, meaning and use of the expression 'a slip of the thumb'. Click below to listen:

'a slip of the thumb'

A slip of the thumb

A slip of the thumb is an unintentional mistake made whilst texting, either sending the message to the wrong person or not noticing when predictive texting chooses the wrong word, often to embarrassing or very funny consequences.

If you say something by accident, something you don’t mean to say but perhaps it sounds similar to your intended sentence, we might call this a slip of the tongue. If, for example, you are introducing your current boyfriend or girlfriend, and you use the name of your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, it’s a slip of the tongue. Quite a bad one.

Well, a slip of the thumb is the same, but by text, SMS or perhaps an email sent by a handheld device. You might not notice when your predictive texting selects the wrong word – book instead of cool for example, or nun instead of mum! I have a Spanish friend 'Viki' V-I-K-I, and when I type in her name it comes out ugli, U-G-L-I. A well-known brand of vodka even comes out as poisoned if you’re not careful.

Alternatively, the person who receives your message might not be the person you meant to send it to. This can happen just by pressing the wrong button or the right button once too often.

It’s very easy to do, and a slip of the thumb can land you in real trouble!

About Mark Shea

Mark Shea

Mark Shea has been a teacher and teacher trainer for eighteen years. He has taught English and trained teachers extensively in Asia and South America, and is a qualified examiner for the University of Cambridge oral examinations. He is currently working with journalists at the World Service and is the author of the BBC College of Journalism's online English tutor.