"agile, light and quick in motion, light-footed," c. 1300, nemel, from Old English næmel "quick to grasp, quick at taking" (attested but once), related to niman "to take," from Proto-Germanic *nemanan (source also of Old Saxon, Old Dutch, Gothic niman, Old Norse nema, Old Frisian nima, German nehmen "to take"), perhaps from PIE root *nem- "assign, allot; take."
With unetymological -b- attested from c. 1500 (compare limb (n.1)). Nimble-fingered is from 1620s; nimble-footed from 1590s; nimble-witted from 1610s. Related: Nimbleness. In 17c., English had nimblechaps "talkative fellow."
early 15c., "slanting, sloping, sideways; crooked, not straight or direct," originally of muscles or eyes, from Old French oblique (14c.) and directly from Latin obliquus "slanting, sidelong, indirect," which is perhaps from ob "against" (see ob-) + root of licinus "bent upward," from a PIE root meaning"to bend, be movable," the source of see limb (n.1). But De Vaan writes, "The etymology is unknown. Closest in form and meaning are līmus 'transverse' and sublīmis 'transverse from below upward', and the latter would be morphologically similar to oblīquus. Yet a root *lī- with different suffixes *-mo- and *-kwo- does not immediately make sense, and has no clear connections outside Italic."
Figurative sense of "indirect" is from early 15c. As a noun in anatomy in reference to a type of muscle the direction of whose fibers is oblique to the long axis of the body or to the long axis of the part acted, by 1838. Related: Obliquely; obliqueness.
Old English þuma, from Proto-Germanic *thūman- (source also of Old Frisian thuma, Old Saxon, Old High German thumo, German Daumen, Dutch duim "thumb," Old Norse þumall "thumb of a glove"), literally "the stout or thick (finger)," from PIE *tum- "swell," from root *teue- "to swell." Unetymological spelling with -b (attested from late 13c.) is perhaps by influence of dumb; also compare limb (n.1).
In some of the IE languages there is a single word for "thumb," which is called the "big finger," like NE big toe. Many of the single words are of similar semantic origin, based on the notion of "stout, thick." [Buck]
Compare Greek megas daktylos "thumb," but Greek also had antikheir, literally "what is opposite the fingers." Italian pollice, French pouce are from Latin pollex, perhaps formed (on analogy of index) from pollere "to be strong."
Phrase rule of thumb attested by 1680s (the thumb as a rough measure of an inch is attested from c. 1500). To be under (someone's) thumb "be totally controlled by that person" is recorded from 1580s.
Thumbs up (1887) and thumbs down (1906) were said to be from expressions of approval or the opposite in ancient amphitheaters, especially gladiator shows, where the gesture decided whether a defeated combatant was spared or slain. But the Roman gesture was merely one of hiding the thumb in the hand or extending it. Perhaps the modern gesture is from the usual coachmen's way of greeting while the hands are occupied with the reins.
c. 1300, dismembren, "to cut off the limbs of," also figuratively "to scatter, disperse, divide into parts or sections so as to destroy the integrity," from Old French desmembrer (11c., Modern French démembrer), from Medieval Latin dismembrare "tear limb from limb; castrate," from Latin de "take away" (see de-) + membrum "limb" (see member). Related: Dismembered; dismembering.
"punctuation mark consisting of two dots, one above the other, used to mark grammatical discontinuity less than that indicated by a period," 1540s, from Latin colon "part of a verse or poem," from Greek kōlon "part of a verse," literally "limb, member" (especially the leg, but also of a tree limb), also, figuratively, "a clause of a sentence," a word of uncertain etymology.
The meaning evolved in modern languages from "independent clause" to the punctuation mark that sets it off. In ancient grammar a colon was one of the larger divisions of a sentence.
mid-13c., "to move slowly, be crippled," from cripple (n.). Transitive meaning "make a cripple of, lame, partially disable by injury to a limb or limbs" is from early 14c. (implied in crippled). Related: Crippling.