Tag Archives: thumbs



This piece was collected in a casual interview setting on the informant’s living room couch . My informant (CH) was born in Pasadena, CA, but grew up in a very French household, learning English as her second language. All of her education has been in American schools, but she learned how to read and write French thanks to after school lessons her mom gave her and her older sister. She is currently a Sophomore in high school and enjoys horseback riding. 

Main Piece:

Interviewer: Do you remember the Thumb-a-Wars from when we were little? Can you describe them to me?

CA: Wait, wait, let’s just do it. *both turn to sit facing each other* Ok film it from above, yeah *moves the interviewer’s hand to a good position*

Interviewer: *interview switches from voice recording to camera and they proceed to film the video*

Both: *Sing Thumb-a-War song and then play*

One, two, three, four

I declare a thumb-a-war

Five, six, seven, eight,

Try and keep your thumb straight

Interviewer: *after settling down from laughing and playing a few games. Switches back to voice recording* Ok *laughs* so where and when did you learn this.

CH: I learned it at school! In like, kindergarten and we  played it during recess. Everyone I know knows the game so even today if my friend and I are bored we can just play for funsies. 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant (CH) and interviewer.


Thumb-a-War was a very popular game when I was in elementary school. We would play it during recess or on bus rides to field trips. We would have big competitions between classmates to figure out who was the strongest boy and strongest girl in the grade, so I have a lot of very good memories of this game! Like CA said, everyone who’s around my age knows this game, so we can whip it out at any time and play if we’re bored. 

The Story of Little Suck-A-Thumb

Informant: There once lived a boy named Conrad, who loved to suck his thumbs. He sucked his thumbs day in and day out, and when his mother told him not to, he did anyway. Finally, his mother gives up, and tells him that if he keeps sucking his thumbs, the tall tailor will find him and cut his thumbs off.

But, as soon as Conrad’s mother had left the room, he immediately began to suck his thumb again. But, his mother had not been joking. The door burst open and a tall man with a pair of huge shears ran into the room and chased Conrad down, cutting off both of his thumbs.

Now Conrad has no thumbs.

Context: This informant is a nineteen year old college student, attending school in the US. However, he lives abroad in a small town in Germany, where he has access to a wide range of German folklore. He also speaks German fluently, which offers him greater understanding of German culture as well.

Background: My informant heard this story from his parents when he was younger, although he clarified that it was in a joking light, rather than a serious one. He seemed to think the tale was useful for keeping rowdy or otherwise disobedient children from retaining bad habits or bad behaviors.

Analysis: This story struck me from the moment I heard it as quite brutal. Cutting off a child’s thumbs is an uncharacteristically serious punishment for as small a transgression as thumb-sucking. However, it did strike me how the seriousness of the tale reflected the culture of Germany itself. Germany, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, has developed a culture of strict order, one that especially stresses the importance of a superior’s orders. This tale is reflective of this cultural attitude – the child, after displaying disobedience, is given a brutal punishment as recompense. I especially enjoy this tale for its short and to the point attitude. This is a story to listen to and heed the warning of. It isn’t told to entertain children. It is told to caution them.

Annotation: Consult this source for another version of this tale

Hoffman, Heinrich. “Struwwelpeter.” The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb, Virginia Commonwealth University, germanstories.vcu.edu/struwwel/daumen_e.html.

Annotation Comment: This is an alternative source for this tale found in the Virginia Commonwealth University database. It doesn’t seem to diverge significantly in terms of narrative, but interestingly, this version seems to be prose. Since the story is translated to English, and the words are in English, I’m inclined to believe this is a modification further down the line. Furthermore, the story has an author attached, an impossibility for folklore, which makes me think that this prose-form of the tale was a modification by Mr. Hoffman to the original.