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BlackBerry thumb also Blackberry thumb

noun [uncountable]

an injury to the thumb caused by repeatedly pressing the keypad on a BlackBerry® handheld device

'UK and USA have warned that repeated use of the thumbs may cause long-term damage, giving rise to "BlackBerry Thumb". As Sean Hughes, professor of orthopaedic surgery at Imperial College London, told BBC news: "People who use them a lot could suffer from osteoarthritis …"'

The Herald 14th February 2005

If you've recently heard the phrase BlackBerry thumb, and conjured up images of children harvesting bramble hedgerows in autumn, then you may need enlightening! Predictably, the phrase relates to an ailment associated with one of the latest electronic devices of the noughties: the BlackBerry® handheld PDA and its potential cause of a type of repetitive strain injury.

this 'thumb-centred' operation is giving rise to an increasing number of people turning up at the doctor's with aching digits

The BlackBerry® is manufactured by the Canadian firm Research In Motion, and is sold by mobile phone companies all over the world. As well as conventional PDA applications, such as calendar and address book, it also includes phone and text messaging functions and is particularly renowned for its wireless capabilities, including an Internet browser and the capacity to send and receive e-mails.

Integral to the BlackBerry® is a keypad designed to optimise what is currently known as thumbing, using only your thumbs to type. Navigation of the system is also accomplished using the thumbs via a thumbwheel (aka trackwheel), a scrolling wheel with a click function positioned on the right side of the device. It is this 'thumb-centred' method of operation which is giving rise to an increasing number of people turning up at the doctor's surgery with aching digits.

Experts in orthopaedic surgery have explained that the thumb works differently from the fingers, incorporating a joint at the bottom which allows it to flex and rotate in all directions. Moving the thumb repeatedly in one direction by tapping away at a keyboard could damage the tendons. Experts argue that, since e-mails tend to be much longer than text messages, use of the BlackBerry® puts much more stress on the thumbs than conventional texting: hence the recent coinage BlackBerry thumb.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 28th March 2005.

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