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oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:

to flick something — to hit something lightly with a sudden quick movement, especially using your finger and thumb together, or your hand:
(1) James flicked a peanut at her.

After reading the definition of "flick", I still couldn't understand what (1) means.
What can "flicked" mean in (1)?

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    Not really sure what your confusion is - the definition you posted is accurate for this situation. James used his finger to propel a peanut at her.
    – SegNerd
    Nov 26, 2023 at 4:22
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    It's important to understand that flick can mean EITHER flicking "WITH THE TIP OF YOUR FINGER" -> what superman is doing in the video below OR it can simply mean throwing something (say, a football) but only using your wrist motion, not your whole arm.
    – Fattie
    Nov 28, 2023 at 19:27

4 Answers 4

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The most common way to 'flick' a small object like a peanut or pea is to place it onto a flat surface and then to use your middle finger to propel it.

I would imagine that James either placed the peanut in the palm of his hand, or onto a desk or table.

enter image description here

He upends a bowl of peanuts on the bar. Then, with malicious pleasure, he begins flipping them, one at a time, at the rows of glasses stacked up on the shelf behind the bar. Ping: Crash! Ping! Crash!

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    It's not just the fast finger movement (often index finger, as well as middle), but how the speed is achieved: by pressing hard against some restraining force (such as the thumb, or the table in the video), and then removing it (e.g. by releasing the thumb, or lifting above the table surface) so that the finger moves a a very high speed for a moment.
    – gidds
    Nov 27, 2023 at 0:45
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    Index finger is more usual than middle finger, in my experience.
    – MikeB
    Nov 27, 2023 at 10:25
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    @MikeB - When flicking a heavy item like a peanut, the middle finger gets more power
    – Richard
    Nov 27, 2023 at 12:43
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    I think if I had to flick a peanut I would definitely not "place it on a flat surface". I would place it directly on my thumb.
    – Stef
    Nov 27, 2023 at 16:26
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    @MikeB Interesting. When I saw the video in gotube’s answer, my immediate thought was the opposite: I would always use the middle finger like Reeve does here, never the index finger. Now I’m wondering if there are index- and middle-fingered people just like there are left- and right-handed people. Nov 28, 2023 at 15:20
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That dictionary description is accurate, but it's such a specific action, you really have to see it:

young man flicks a small cracker

(Source)

It's not a peanut, but you get the idea.

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  • In this instance, I think you're incorrect. The way to flick a peanut would be to rest it flat on your palm
    – Richard
    Nov 26, 2023 at 20:26
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    @Richard You’re right that you wouldn’t normally hold a single peanut between your fingers for flicking, but where you place the peanut doesn’t really matter. It’s the sudden, quick movement of the index or middle finger that makes it a flick, and the video clearly shows that. The peanut may have been on a table, in his palm, on the back of his hand, on his arm, on the arm of his chair, or anywhere else. Nov 26, 2023 at 20:58
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    @Richard: The point you're making is not part of what the example sentence tries to convey, nor what the meaning of "to flick" is. It does not matter how the flicked object is held in position (if at all) before flicking it.
    – Flater
    Nov 27, 2023 at 1:29
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To "flick" something is to throw it with minimal motion of the arm. Often it will be just a bending of the wrist towards one's torso, and then a rapid motion of the wrist away from the torso, in the direction of the target. Visibly, it's just the hand and the wrist creating the motion; the elbow angle doesn't change except by a couple of degrees; visibly the lower arm does not appear to flex at the elbow.

FWIW, an n-gram.

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    In the case of flicking a peanut, the arm wouldn't generally need to move at all - it's all about the thumb/finger action...
    – psmears
    Nov 26, 2023 at 15:32
  • @Psmears:Does it take both hands to flick a peanut, as shown in the video? Or is it like shooting marbles, a flick of the thumb?
    – TimR
    Nov 26, 2023 at 19:37
  • exactly like shooting marbles - a flick of the finger and/or thumb... (In the video he's using his other hand to hold... whatever it is he's flicking, but he could equally have put it on the table and just used the one hand.)
    – psmears
    Nov 26, 2023 at 22:14
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    @TimR From a dictionary: to flick a glance/look at smb = to flick smb a glance/look: "She flicked a nervous glance at him. = She flicked him a nervous glance." From another dictionary: "Leith flicked a glance at her watch." Also: to flick a smile at smb = to flick smb a smile. Are all these phrases unnatural to you?
    – Loviii
    Nov 27, 2023 at 18:22
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    It's language Romano, it's what the masses use, read and speak. And if the expression–flick a glance at someone–originated in pulp romance what difference does it make? There are thousands of expressions and idioms that originated in literary works both high and low, cinematography, and in music. That's no reason to sneer at "flick a glance" Personally, I find the usage interesting.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 27, 2023 at 20:11
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At best Oxford's Posted text borders on the awful, but far-too-common, example in which dictionaries cite something merely grammatical as though it had a semantic meaning. This doesn't and if there's a fault, that's Oxford's, not yours.

As here, examples cited by dictionaries are too often illustrated by proffering 'James flicked a peanut…' as though 'flicked' was different from 'chucked/flung/hurled/threw…' or anything similar. In the context of Oxford Learners' example there is no such difference… which suggests if there's a fault, its Oxford's, not yours.

To truly describe a 'flick' might be beyond me, and it's very clearly beyond the poor drudges at Oxford so please, don't let them mislead you.

To flick something does involve using both finger and thumb but that description is not useful. Simply using finger and thumb together might be a kind of throwing, perhaps flinging; never flicking.

Using finger and thumb together would apply at least equally to throwing darts. Does anyone here think I'm going too far in saying that using finger and thumb together to throw darts describes a wholly different action, nothing like 'flicking' in the sense of peanuts? Who doubts that, please Post a separate Question.

Flicking might involve a 'hand' but only as that involves all, or at least several, fingers. We use our hands to 'chuck/fling/hurl/throw…' balls, as for instance in baseball, cricket or rounders, basketball or netball.

Who's heard of a ball being 'flicked' in those sports, except as a special description of the unusually remarkable skill of a particular player in a given game, please speak up now!

All that said, to flick does involve '… using both finger and thumb…' but only in a very particular way so again if there's a fault, that's not your fault.

I might be putting this badly, perhaps worse than Oxford did and still:

To 'flick' specifically involves using a finger like the string of a crossbow, and the thumb rather like the trigger. Does that much make sense?

To 'flick' involves straining the finger against the thumb, until the point when the finger slips past the thumb's restraint.

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    I believe it is fairly common to talk about flicking a frisbee (though several other words work well.) Similarly, flicking would probably be the normal usage for both Subbuteo and Tiddly-winks, and both differ somewhat from this description.
    – MikeB
    Dec 1, 2023 at 11:13
  • @MikeB If somewhere like English Language & Usage you want to debate that, please Post your own Questions there! Here in English Language Learners, what could your Comment add but confusion? FYI no, flicking as in either Subbuteo or Tiddlywinks are perfect examples, neither differing in any way from my description. Dec 1, 2023 at 20:02

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