Pointing the Finger at QI

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Gav Lyk & Rob Dielemans write:

QI has claimed that there are no muscles in the fingers, but goosebumps are caused by tiny muscles, aren't they?  The fingers contain arrector pili muscles: 'muscle fibers' that are connected to every hair follicles.

An Elf responds:

Dear Gav and Rob,

Of course, you're right.  This came up in the course of our research, in fact, Stephen's card on the day had the following:

"However, if one wanted to be ultra-pedantic, one could say that there are actually thousands of muscles in each finger, if you include the tiny muscles that cause your hairs to stand up, or your blood vessels to contract. "

However due to the constraints of a half-hour (or now 45 minute) show, sometimes Stephen doesn't get a chance to mention every fact on his cards - and indeed sometimes he mentions things that get cut in the editing suite.

So this piece of pedantry unfortunately never saw the light of day.

While we're here, here are some other factoids on Stephen's card that never made it to air:

To move your fingers side-to-side, like to do the "live long and prosper" sign, you work muscles in your hand, again these are not in the fingers themselves. A human hand has 27 bones; in fact, over half the body's bones can be found in the hands and feet. The human body has over 600 muscles, the word comes from the Latin for "little mouse" because the movement of the biceps was thought to resemble the movement of a mouse under the skin.

A commonly seen factoid on the net says that the tongue is the strongest muscle in the human body. This is completely wrong, no matter what definition of "strongest" one uses. The strongest muscle will actually be the largest (which means it's either your gluteus maximus or the quadriceps in your thigh) or the one that can exert most pressure on an object which means it's your jaw muscle. A strong case though can be made for the uterus, which is probably the strongest "pound for pound", it weighs around a kilogram, but during childbirth can exert a force equivalent to a modern longbow.

This is just a small percentage of the hand and muscle facts that were at Stephen's fingers for the show; hopefully it gives an idea of the work that the elves do for each question.

Quibble Qualified


Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary

Do you have a bone to pick with QI?  E-mail us here: elves@qi.com

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Would it not have been fair to assume the question was refering to skeletal muscle only?

Regarding your question, can anyone remember the example that QI used to show how you cant move your ring finger???
My mind is blank

Bend your middle finger and place the centre section on a table or hard surface. You will be able to lift your thumb, index, and little finger without moving your middle finger. But it is impossible to lift your ring finger.

This is because the the tendons (not the muscles) in your fingers are all independent of each other, except for the middle finger & ring fingers.

I was shown this particular "impossibility" years ago and to everyones astonishment promptly proceeded to manage the trick without difficulty. Any idea why I am demonstrably such a freak?


Perhaps it is something to do with geographical location as I also can move my ring finger independently of my middle finger. There is a strain on the tendon(s) in the middle finger but I can move it a good 50 degrees.

I've never had a problem moving either of my ring fingers whilst the other fingers are stationary. Anyone can do it with some training. Pianists will be able to do this without too much bother.

I can do this also, it comes from having very long tendons.

who has ever got goosebumps in their hands?

A strong case though can be made for the uterus, which is probably the strongest "pound for pound", it weighs around a kilogram, but during childbirth can exert a force equivalent to a modern longbow.

Upon reading this did anyone else's mind immediately jump to the image of a very novel form of archery?

Just a quick aside to the original comment; muscles that cause the hairs to stand on end are actually "erector" pili.

With regard to the above trick: the muscle, and hence the tendons attached to the muscle, that flexes the fingers in question is extensor digitorum communis.

New trick - flex your ring finger at the middle knuckle as far as you can and then note that the tip of your finger is useless (flick it with your other hand to see its worthlessness). Its due to the flexion of the knuckle isolating the flexor tendon that inserts into the most distal finger bone (terminal/distal phalanx) which is known as flexor digtorum profundus.

Hope this isn't too dull!

Why yes.
Yes it did.

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