thumb on the scale

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English[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

An allusion to a butcher who cheats customers by surreptitiously using a thumb to apply extra pressure to the scale when weighing meat to calculate the price of a sale.

Noun[edit]

thumb on the scale (usually uncountable, plural thumbs on the scale or thumbs on the scales)

  1. (idiomatic) An act of bias or a tactic for cheating which creates a situation that unfairly benefits one party involved in an interaction.
    • 1982, Emory A. Griffin, Getting Together, ISBN 9780877843900, p. 68 (Google preview):
      I'll try to give an impartial account without putting my thumb on the scale.
    • 1991, Deborah L. Rhode, Justice and Gender, ISBN 9780674491014, p. 187 (Google preview):
      [E]ven to characterize these cases as affirmative action is misleading. What critics often present as a thumb on the scale for "less qualified" individuals may in fact reflect only necessary adjustments in the way the scale is calibrated.
    • 2009 June 23, "China and US head for trade war," Guardian (UK) (retrieved 1 Nov 2015):
      Ron Kirk, the US trade representative, accused Beijing of putting a "giant thumb on the scale" by restricting exports of commodities including silicon, coke and zinc, to give Chinese manufacturers an unfair advantage.
    • 2014 Oct. 22, Derek Willis, "‘Soft on Crime’ TV Ads Affect Judges’ Decisions, Not Just Elections," New York Times (retrieved 1 Nov 2015):
      "The data show that the television campaign ads this money buys put a thumb on the scale in criminal cases, and undermine the promise of equal justice."