Reading a NY Times article by Shaila K. Dewan, I was brought up short by the first paragraph:

For more than a century, the fingerprint has been the quintessential piece of crime scene evidence. But fingerprints are only a tiny part of the story. All of a person’s “friction ridged skin” is distinctively patterned: soles, palms and even the writer’s palm, as the outer side of the hand is called.

The writer’s palm? Never heard of it, neither had my dictionaries, and “the outer side of the hand” didn’t make any sense to me. I googled “writer’s palm” and only got 27 hits, many of which simply refer to the palm of a writer (so it’s clearly not a very widespread term). I did, however, get two further definitions.

From a National Institute of Standards and Technology web page:

Larabee described the parts of the palm, emphasizing the importance of the “writers palm” which is the 4.45 cm (1.75 inch) by 12.7 cm (5.0 inch) area on the side of each palm opposite the thumb.

Not much better. But an IRS page has a nice clear definition: “The writer’s palm is that area on the side of the palm which normally rests against the paper when writing.” Isn’t it interesting how much more informative a plain-language definition can be than an ostentatiously scientific one?


  1. I found the writer’s palm by the simple expedient of bringing my hands to my chest, palms facing the floor and the back of the hand towards my face. The writer’s palm being that part of the hand away from the chest. See how simple it is when you experiment?:)

  2. In anatomical terminology the ball of muscle at the base of the thumb (on the palm side) is the thenar eminence, and the area on the other side, at the base of the little finger, is the hypothenar, “below the thenar”.
    I presume it is thought of as “below” because it is at the bottom of the palm when the hand is writing.

  3. a year ago when I was google bombing I searched for xanthippean, which returned one result, in a list of words.
    today it returns five results, with proper usage. Guess it’s real.

  4. Last year, in my Semantics of English class at that University of Glasgow, we were in the computer lab playing with the British National Corpus–typing in words and seeing the results.
    A sort-of game was started–what words, when typed in invidicually give many results, but when typed in as a phrase give only one.
    My winner: “punk” “rock” and “music” individually returned loads of hits, but “punk rock music” gave moe only one.

  5. Hmmm, based on that “friction ridged” indictment, the slang term Pommie (for Brits), should really be Palmy ?

  6. I have verified by Google that not-condoning outnumbers condoning by at least 1000 to one, but probably 10,000 to one. There isn’t really a lot of condoning going on these days.

  7. A bit weird that this information would be in the Internal Revenue Manual… I guess it is much more natural to write little finger down than thumb down; I think it could be done either way though.

  8. Jessica Weissman says

    I know I’m late to the party, but the term is common usage among people who take and use fingerprints and palmprints.

  9. Never too late, and I thank you for that very pertinent information!

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