Etymology
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thimble (n.)
Old English þymel "sheath or covering for the thumb," from thuma (see thumb (n.)) + instrumental suffix -el (1), used in forming names of tools (compare handle (n.)). The unetymological -b- appears mid-15c. (compare humble, nimble, etc.). Originally of leather, metal ones came into use 17c. Related: Thimbleful. Thimblerig, con game played with three thimbles and a pea or button, is attested from 1825 by this name, though references to thimble cheats, probably the same swindle, date back to 1716 (see rig (v.)).
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-el (1)

instrumental word-forming element, expressing "appliance, tool," from Old English -ol, -ul, -el, representing PIE *-lo- (see -ule). In modern English usually -le except after -n-. As in treadle, ladle, thimble, handle, spindle, girdle; also compare dialectal thrashle "flail, implement for thrashing," from Old English ðerscel, Middle English scrapel "instrument for scraping" (mid-14c.), etc.

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spindle (n.)
early 13c., with unetymological -d-, from Old English spinel "small wooden bar used in hand-spinning," properly "an instrument for spinning," from stem of spinnan (see spin (v.)) + instrumental suffix -el (1). Compare handle, thimble, etc.

Related to Old Saxon spinnila, Old Frisian spindel, Old High German spinnila, German Spindel. As a type of something slender, it is attested from 1570s. As with distaff, sometimes formerly used as a metonym for "the female sex," as in Old English spinelhealf "female line of descent," distinguished from sperehealf "male line of descent."
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handle (n.)
Old English handle "a handle" (plural handla), formed from hand (n.) with instrumental suffix -el (1) indicating a tool in the way thimble was formed from thumb, spindle from spin, spindle from spin, ladle from lade, etc. The slang sense of "nickname" is first recorded 1870, originally U.S., from earlier expressions about adding a handle to (one's) name (1833), that is, a title such as Mister or Sir. To fly off the handle (1833) is a figurative reference to an ax head (to be off the handle "be excited" is recorded from 1825, American English). To get a handle on "get control of" is recorded by 1919.
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-ling 
diminutive word-forming element, early 14c., from Old English -ling a nominal suffix (not originally diminutive), from Proto-Germanic *-linga-; attested in historical Germanic languages as a simple suffix, but probably representing a fusion of two suffixes: 1. that represented by English -el (1), as in thimble, handle; and 2. -ing, suffix indicating "person or thing of a specific kind or origin;" in masculine nouns also "son of" (as in farthing, atheling, Old English horing "adulterer, fornicator"), from PIE *-(i)ko- (see -ic).

Both these suffixes had occasional diminutive force, but this was only slightly evident in Old English -ling and its equivalents in Germanic languages except Norse, where it commonly was used as a diminutive suffix, especially in words designating the young of animals (such as gæslingr "gosling"). Thus it is possible that the diminutive use that developed in Middle English is from Old Norse.
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*teue- 
*teuə-, also *teu-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to swell."

It forms all or part of: butter; contumely; creosote; intumescence; intumescent; protuberance; protuberant; psychosomatic; somato-; -some (3) "body, the body;" soteriology; Tartuffe; thigh; thimble; thousand; thole (n.); thumb; tumescent; tumid; tumor; truffle; tuber; tuberculosis; tumult; tyrosine.

It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Avestan tuma "fat;" Greek tylos "callus, lump;" Latin tumere "to swell," tumidus "swollen," tumor "a swelling;" Lithuanian tukti "to become fat;" Lithuanian taukas, Old Church Slavonic tuku, Russian tuku "fat of animals;" Old Irish ton "rump."
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foxglove (n.)
Old English foxes glofa, literally "fox's glove." The flower shape is that of the finger of a glove (compare German Fingerhut "foxglove," literally "thimble," the source of digitalis). The reason for fox is lost in the mute past of English herb-lore. Compare Old English plant names foxesfot ("fox's foot") "xiphion;" foxesclate ("fox's bur") "burdock."
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jeep (n.)
early 1941, American English military slang, acronym from G.P., abbreviation of General Purpose (car), but certainly influenced by Eugene the Jeep (who had extraordinary powers but said only "jeep"), from E.C. Segar's comic strip "Thimble Theater" (home of Popeye the Sailor). Eugene the Jeep first appeared in the strip March 13, 1936. The vehicle was in development from 1940, and the Army planners' initial term for it was light reconnaissance and command car.
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digitalis (n.)

species of tall herbs native to Europe and western Asia, 1660s, a Modern Latin translation of German fingerhut, the German name of the plant, a transferred use of the German word for "thimble," literally "finger-hat," the plant so called for the bell-shape of the flowers. Compare the English name, foxglove. The Latin name was given by Fuchs (1542). The medicine (originally extracted from the plant) is so called from 1799.

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ditty bag (n.)

"small bag used by sailors for needles, thread, scissors, thimble, etc.," 1828, nautical slang, of uncertain origin, perhaps from the alleged British naval phrase commodity bag. Hence also ditty-box (1841).

Every true man-of-war's man knows how to cut out clothing with as much ease, and producing as correct a fit, as the best tailor. This is a necessity on board ship, for the ready-made clothing procured of the purser is never known to fit, being generally manufactured several sizes larger than necessary, in order that it may be re-cut and made in good style. [Charles Nordhoff, "The Young Man-of-War's Man," 1866]
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