Something that stands out from its surroundings is said to stick out like a sore thumb, because a throbbing thumb is often vividly red.
And more and more Americans' thumbs are quite literally sticking out in just this way. So many that in their medical journals, orthopedic specialists are describing an epidemic of sore thumbs.
It's all because of pocket-sized personal computers such as BlackBerries, Palm-brand handhelds, and certain cellphones. Barely bigger than a credit card, these little devices have itsy-bitsy keyboards. The most popular way to type a message while holding onto them is to use one's thumbs. And by the millions, over and over again, day and night, Americans are doing just that – checking and sending their e-mails.
The result can be a painful, tingling, or numbing mini-version of carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis that used to affect only those who repeatedly manipulate larger machines.
The Washington Post newspaper, which recently wrote about thumb pain, illustrated the story with a photograph of three White House staff members standing side by side at one of President Bush's speaking engagements. All three where thumbing away on their BlackBerries.
A similar photo of ordinary folks could have been taken in cafes and waiting rooms across America.
As with a drinking problem, abstinence is the only proven remedy. And by all accounts, texting on one's palm-size personal device can be just as hard a habit to kick.
So while delightfully convenient, handheld communications can exact an excruciating toll. But things could be worse. As the Post article points out, in Japan, teenagers are now referred to as the thumb generation.