How Many Fingers?
Harry: [holding up three fingers] How many fingers am I holding up, Marv?A Stock Phrase when anybody loses their glasses or injures their head. "How many fingers am I holding up?" Can produce a variety of responses including:
Harry: (gawking) ...eight?!
Harry: (gawking) ...eight?!
— Home Alone 2: Lost In New York
- The askee is seeing double vision.
- The asker is not actually holding up any fingers and the askee says so.
- The askee says something nonsensical and then falls down again, with a Non Sequitur Thud.
- The askee is perfectly fine, but lacks the ability to count the fingers due to blindness or innumeracy.
- The askee gets snarky, asking how many fingers they're holding up. (Hint: The correct answer is "one". Possibly two if you're British.)
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- Appears in a Dr. Pepper commercial, between a boxer and his coach.
Coach: How many fingers am I holding up?Boxer: Twenty-three!
Anime and Manga
- During the "Attempte Suicide" chapter of Franken Fran, after one character is shot to pieces, he comes to in Fran's operating room. His first sight is Fran, holding up a finger and a flashlight, asking him "How many fingers?" before seeing if his eyes follow the light.
- One scene in Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro has Neuro asking this to Yako, while he has his hand morphed into some sort of Eldritch Abomination which makes answering the question rather difficult.
- One of the legends from Blefuscu, the island where The Voynich Hotel resides, tells of the time when Tenebrarum was shot with an arrow covered in witch-killing poison; her little sister held up twelve fingers in one hand, asking such a question. While she answered correctly, it was ultimately useless, as Tenebrarum died and was buried in the same place where the hotal stands today.
- In the Bleach fic Winter War, Ise Nanao tries this on Orihime after Orihime overexerts her power by rejecting Ichigo's Hollow's control over him.
“How many fingers am I holding up?” Ise asked Orihime, very nicely. She waved her hand in front of Orihime.“Lots and lots,” Orihime said. She kept on trying to add two and two together and getting the wrong answer. “But it’s very pretty,” she added, in case she’d hurt Ise’s feelings.
- In Divided Rainbow, since Rarity the unicorn has hooves instead of hands, she levitates some stones up and asks Lero to blink the number she's holding up.
- Used quite famously in Heta Oni, during the scene where England goes blind in one of the loops.
Films — Live-Action
- From the first The Mighty Ducks movie, after Karp blocks a shot with his head:
Coach Bombay: Karp, How many fingers am I holding up?Peter: He wouldn't know that anyway.Bombay: Shut up, Peter.
- After McCoy is arrested for Spock-related reasons in Star Trek III, Kirk asks him this question while doing the Vulcan salute.
McCoy: That's not very damn funny.
- In Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, the bad guys did this after Marv was hit by a brick. Harry was holding up two fingers (plus a thumb). Marv was suffering double vision (as we saw from his own viewpoint), but even got that answer wrong by saying "eight".
- The Comic Book Man:
Dr. Von Bon Bon: Let me try somesing...[holds up four fingers] How many fingers am I holding up?
Josh: [a word balloon appears: "Four fingers."]
Dr. Von Bon Bon: Good. [Holds up two fingers] And now how many fingers?
Josh: [a word balloon appears: "Two fingers."]
Dr. Von Bon Bon: Good! [Opens his hand] And now how many? [Before Josh can answer, he slaps him hard in the face and begins to shake him] SNAP OUT OF IT!
- The Emperor's New Clothes (2001)
[Napoleon Bonaparte slips and hits his head on the cobblestones]Truchaut: Sergeant! Sergeant Lenormand, are you all right? Can you hear me? [No response]
Dr. Lambert: Listen to me. How many fingers can you see? [No response]
Truchaut: What is your name?
Napoleon Bonaparte: Emperor Napoleon.
- Maximum Overdrive:
Bill Robinson: Look here, how many fingers you see, huh? Eight? Twelve?
Duncan: Okay, so I got a little double vision, but it's clearin' up, Bill.
[Godber bangs his head on the goalpost]Mackay: [holds up one finger] How many fingers am I holding up?
Godber: You can't fool me sir, five.
- See No Evil, Hear No Evil:
Dave: [doesn't hold up any fingers] How many fingers am I holding up in front of your eyes right now?
Dave: That's good. That's pretty good, considering that he's blind.
- Little Man Tate:
Jane: Damon? How many fingers?
- In Bruce Almighty, Bruce tests God's omnipotence by asking "how many fingers am I holding up" with his hands behind his back, rapidly changing them as God answers correct. Fed up, Bruce decides to cheat by holding up seven fingers, five on his right hand and two on his left, and then quickly folding up the two on his left hand as God answers. Bruce then holds out his right hand triumphantly... only to notice that God instantaneously altered the anatomy of his hand to include two extra fingers to validate his answer.
- In Just Like Heaven, a skeptical character is told by his friend that there's a ghost in the room with them. As proof, he puts his hand behind his back where only the ghost can see it and asks his friend how many fingers the ghost says she sees. After a few correct answers, he tries a different "gesture," leading the ghost to comment, "He's flipping me off."
- My Cousin Vinny: Vinny uses How Many Fingers? to test a witness's eyesight:
Vinny: How far away were the defendants when when you saw them enterin' the Sac-o-Suds?Mrs. Riley: About 100 feet.[Vinny measures out 50 feet, then stands 50 feet away and holds up two fingers]Vinny: All right, this is 50 feet. That's half the distance. How many fingers am I holding up?
- Real Life variant: Defense attorney Irving Kanarek tried this one on a witness in the Manson murder trial. Too bad the witness was testifying to something she had heard, not claiming to have seen...
- In the high school football movie Varsity Blues, one of the beefier linemen is knocked cold, leading to the following exchange (paraphrased, feel free to correct).
Trainer: How many fingers am I holding up?Lineman: Uh...Quarterback: No, no, it's gotta be true-false. Billy-bob, the man is holding up some fingers, true or false?Lineman: Uh...true?Quarterback: He's fine.
- A Kid in King Arthur's Court: "How many fingers am I holding up?" "That's a bit off topic right now." * faints* .
- In Patch Adams, a fellow psychaiatric patient Arthur Mendelson comes up to everybody (including Patch), holding up four fingers and asking how many. When Patch responds "Four?", shouts "No! Look beyond the fingers!" Patch, staring long at his fingers, lets his vision blur until he responds "Eight?", satisfying Arthur enormously.
- In Wedding Crashers, Zach asks this to Jeremy, but wiggles his fingers around.
- Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey:
Ted: Ted, if you're really [future] me, how many fingers am I about to hold up?Evil Robot Ted: Three.Ted: Whoa!
- In The Three Stooges, Moe would often ask this question before giving his signature Eye Poke.
- In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Steve asks this to Ned after he is knocked out by pirates.
Steve: Ned, how many fingers am I holdin' up?Ned: I don't know. That's not my job. Too many to tell. How many fingers—Steve: He's gonna be just fine.
- The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland: Elmo passes out after Oscar sneezes into his blanket and throws it into his trash can. One character asks Elmo the trope, but before he could answer...
The Count: Two. There are two fingers. Hahaha! [Thunder Clap]
- In Terry Pratchett's Making Money Igor asks this from Hubert Turvy, holding a jar full of fingers.
- In Monstrous Regiment, after getting this from an Igor, Maladict replies "You know, that is something an Igor should never say."
- In one of the books an Igor asks this question and gets "thirteen" for an answer.
Igor: Very good, thur! Well done!
- Also, in Men at Arms:
Carrot: How many fingers am I holding up, sir?
Carrot: How many hands then?
Vimes: Uhh... four?
- In the same book, Cuddy asks this of Detritus, several times. Only once does he ask it to see if Detritus is hurt, though; the rest of the time he’s either making fun of him or trying to teach him to count.
- In Witches Abroad, when a farmhouse is dropped on Nanny Ogg's head, forcing her hat down over her eyes:
Granny: Gytha? How many fingers am I holding up?Nanny: Wha' fingers? 'S'all gone dark.
- The Electric Torture scene in 1984 where O'Brien holds up four fingers and forces Winston to see five.
- From one of Katherine Applegate's Chatham Island books in response to a blind character being perceptive.
Nina: You're not really blind at all are you? How many fingers am I holding up?
Ben: One. The middle one. That was too easy.
- Catch-22: Yossarian, claiming to see everything twice, was subjected to this test. Interestingly, he responded "two" (as in two fingers) regardless of how many fingers were held up. The doctors conclude that he does, indeed, see everything twice. He was subsequently considered cured when he responded "one" instead, in the same way.
- In Shanna Swendson's Enchanted, Inc., how Owen tests Katie for a concussion.
- In John C. Wright's Count To A Trillion, the doctor tries this on Menelaus, who answers "Fifteen" without even looking up from what he's doing.
- Godmother Elena does this in One Good Knight, to confirm that Andie really does need that cure-a-concussion spell.
- In The Name of the Wind, when Kvothe is asked this on his University entrance exam, it's a trick question: the asker is holding up extra fingers on the hand that's under the table. (Hence the correct answer is "somewhere between one and six.")
- During the football game in M*A*S*H Duke and Hawkeye team up to take the opposing team's star player out of the game with a nasty double tackle. When his coach asks him the classic question after he is carried off the field, the answer is "fifteen".
- Bob asks this of Harry Dresden after the later's voodoo doll of Chicago blows up while Harry was using it. Bob is a spirit of intellect inhabiting a skull.
- In Scrubs, "My Musical," they did this in song:
JD: How many fingers do you see?
Elliot: Call 911 emergency.
- Used hilariously in Whose Line Is It Anyway? after Ryan Stiles accidentally rams his head into the neon sign on Drew Carey's desk and breaks it.
Drew: How many fingers am I holding up? (waves fingers frantically)Ryan: (pauses for a second) Four?Drew: Close enough.Ryan: How about me? (gives the finger)
- Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman:
Dr. Quinn: Horace, are you all right?
Jake: How many fingers?
Dr. Quinn: I think he's finished for the day.
- Married... with Children:
Al: Oh my God! Those women have brainwashed him. We'll have to deprogram him! [holds up two fingers] Quick, how many fingers am I holding up? [pokes Jefferson in the eyes]
Jefferson: Whoa, thanks Al. They almost had me that time.
- The West Wing episode "Evidence of Things Not Seen".
[The White House has just been fired upon]President Josiah Bartlet: Will, are you alright? How many fingers am I holding up?
Will Bailey: Who's Will, sir?
- In Friends, when Monica is trying to put eyedrops in Rachel's eyes but Rachel is not making it easy for her:
Monica: (not bothering to hold up any fingers) How many fingers am I holding up?Rachel: (obviously has her eyes squeezed shut) Umm... four?Monica: Oh my God, I was thinking four!
- THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!
- Which is a reference to 1984 below, both Winston and Picard admit to seeing five at the end.
- The Non Sequitur Thud variation occurs in Police Squad!, when The Champ is beaten in a boxing match.
Coach: Champ!? How many fingers do you see?The Champ: Thursday... (collapses)
- Played with in Teen Wolf during a brutal lacrosse game. The coach asks a player how many fingers while holding up two. The player answers four. The coach's response is to tell him to say two and then pronounces him fit to carry on playing.
- Humorously subverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Riley asks this of the groggy Graham. He replies, "Seventeen", in reference to Spike, Hostile 17, who was the guy who hit him.
- Angel: Spike does this sarcastically when he gets fed up with Drogyn, who hates being asked questions since he Cannot Tell a Lie.
"Why do you think we're here?" (Drogyn moves closer) And what's your favourite colour, what's your favourite song, who's the goalkeeper for Manchester Utd and how many fingers am I holding up?" (gives him a two-fingered salute)
- In an episode of Father Ted, Ted uses this trope in an effort to see how (relatively) sober Jack is. Jack amazingly gives the right answer, but the camera then cuts to his POV, to show a satanic figure waving a collection of glowing fingers all roughly the size of baseball bats.
- Salute Your Shorts
Telly: How many fingers am I holding up?
Michael: How many fingers am I holding up?
- Non-head-trauma-related example in the Doctor Who episode "Planet of the Dead": The Doctor uses this to test a woman's psychic abilities by holding his hand behind his back and asking how many fingers. The woman answers correctly, The Doctor raises another finger without saying anything, and she answers correctly again.
- Chrissy turns this trope into one of her Dumb Blonde moments on Three's Company after hitting her head;
Jack: Chrissy, focus in. (holds up two fingers) How many fingers do you see?Chrissy: Five.Jack and Janet: Five?!Chrissy: (nods) Two in V and three folded down.Jack: It's okay, she's normal.
- RoboCop: Prime Directives includes a scene with the titular character as the victim and a surviving researcher as the asker.
- Used by Lisbon on a female suspect on an episode of The Mentalist. There was no response— the suspect had been poisoned, passed out and died shortly afterward.
- Jane gets it, too, and quickly brushes off the question with 'six'.
- One of the first signs of John Doe's unusual nature. He responds to the question using medical jargon to explain why the thumb is not technically considered a "finger."
- Similar to the Doctor Who example above, this was used on Shawn on Psych to test his "psychic" abilities. Shawn only got it right because he could see the man's hand reflected by the blank TV screen and a mirror.
- On Saturday Night Live, this was once a category on Celebrity Jeopardy!. It literally involved Alex Trebek asking this question while holding up a number of fingers. Sean Connery responded by showing him something that wasn't exactly a "finger".
- From Sanctuary's episode "Monsoon":
Will: Hey, H. How many fingers, how many fingers?Henry: Tuesday.
- In Celebrity Deathmatch Mills Lane once tried this on a downed combatant... using two of the guy's OWN dismembered fingers.
- In Deadliest Catch, a greenhorn crewmember on the Wizard named Chris collapsed and started going into shock. Captain Keith used this phrase, holding up two fingers. The greenhorn, suffering double vision at the time but barely able to choke out the words, answered "four".
- Used in Rab C. Nesbitt to point out that Gash was doing drugs. He replied Thursday.
- Star Trek: Voyager. After Chakotay gets punched in the head while boxing on the holodeck, the Doctor holds up three fingers in a facsimile of the Vulcan salute and asks this of a still-woozy Chakotay, who replies correctly. The Doctor says sardonically, "Good guess."
- Used a little squickily (the song's about illegal abortions done in alleys) in "Mandy Goes to Med School" by the Dresden Dolls:
Guess how many fingers, okay
Guess how many more I can fit in there
- Occurs at the end of the Neal McCoy song "Billy's Got His Beer Goggles On": "How many fingers am I holding up, Billy? Get up, Billy! Get up!"
- Part of the chorus of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Four Eyes", which is about being bullied because of your Nerd Glasses.
- On Foxtrot, Andy asks Roger how his ballgame with Peter went. ("Ball game?" "Peter?") Andy realizes that Roger's out of it, and asks him how many fingers she's holding up ("Fingers?"), confirming that he got beaned with the ball.
- A good one in BBC Radio sitcom Think The Unthinkable:
Owen: Ryan, how many fingers am I holding up?
Ryan: Wha, fingers?
Sophie: Owen, put some fingers up!
Sophie: Not that one!
- Done twice, to great effect, in the Dwindling Party "Groundhog Day" Loop of Heta Oni. The first time, it's Played for Laughs when Alfred asks this to a zoning-out Arthur, who quickly snaps the correct answer and lectures him for wasting time on nonsense. The second time isn't very funny at all; after Arthur has used up a concerning amount of magic trying to kill a monster, Alfred asks him the exact same question, only to discover that he's blind.
- In the intro of Ratchet: Deadlocked, Al asks Ratchet this question while holding up two fingers. Ratchet could not answer because Al forgot to turn on hisspeech ability.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, Joey asks a Heroic BSODing Yugi this question with a closed hand, and takes his lack of response as a correct answer.
"How many fingers am I holding up? * Beat* that's right, zero! Man, you're good at this game."
- From The Liam Smith Show, for some reason being used to Spot the Impostor:
Arturo: How many fingers am I holding up?
Liam: One... And that's very rude.
- In this Homestar Runner menu page, while hovering over the Games button. Of course, Homestar doesn't have visible hands.
- When That Guy was asked this once. His response? "I don't know, is it as many as me?" * flips off camera*
- Happens in Darths & Droids to evaluate Obi-Wan's possible brain damage.
- In Hercules, there's a variation, in that the person asking the question isn't very good with numbers:
Phil: Kid, how many horns do you see?
Phil: Close enough.
- The Simpsons episode "Regarding Margie". Marge Simpson has amnesia.
Dr. Julius Hibbert: How many fingers am I holding up?
Marge Simpson: Two.
Dr. Julius Hibbert: Good. Now I can put them back in the jar.
- In another episode, a man does this after saving Homer from drowning, only for Homer to retort, "What's the matter, rube? You don't know how to count?"
- In the first episode of Jackie Chan Adventures, when Jackie is knocked down after stopping Jade from hijacking a moped.
Captain Black: How many fingers am I holding up?
Jackie: Look, fishies.
Jade: Jackie? How many fingers do you see?
- It happens again in season three, after Jackie's been bitten by a cobra.
Jackie: Uh, what's a Jackie?
- King of the Hill after Hank gets his nose broken during practice for a rematch against his highschool football rivals.
Dale: Hank! Can you smell how many fingers I'm holding up?
- From Daria, "Through A Lens Darkly": Daria is experimenting with contacts as opposed to her usual iconic glasses, in a response to nearly hitting a dog during a driving lesson. When the contacts irritate her too much, she decides to go to school without them or the glasses. Jane, catching on, asks her friend "How many fingers?" "I've got one for you."
- Used differently in Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot; a flashback episode reveals the Big Guy Powered Armor's origins as a self-aware robot, initially canned when the AI program turned out to be inadequate:
Scientist: "How many fingers am I holding up?"Big Guy AI: "Wednesday."
- On The Schnookums and Meat Funny Cartoon Show, Obadiah asks this to Pith Possum after an accident. He wearily responds "Seven."
- In Beavis And Butthead during a Lie Detector test:
Mr. O' Brien: Now, Butthead, could you tell me how many fingers I am holding up?Butthead: Uh, four?(ding)Mr. O' Brien: Well, it's three, actually, but since you think it's four, you didn't really lie, so that's good.
- Dick Dastardly kits the Vulture Squadron with glasses in the episode "Fly-By-Knights" and tests them out with this line, holding up four fingers. The problem: Zilly sees things upside down so he stands on his head to reply, Klunk sees four times as many things, so he responds with 16, and Muttley sees things from far away so he has to climb on Dastardly's hand to answer.
- The Penguins of Madagascar Skipper asks this question to King Julien. Skipper's a penguin, and penguins only have flippers.
King Julien: Is that a tricky question?
- When doctors are taught the "how many fingers" trick in medical school they are (depending on the teacher, perhaps) specifically warned not to hold up two fingers every time, as the bizarre universal tendency goes in both Real Life and fiction.
- You are also supposed to administer the test more than once, deliberately changing the number of fingers slowly and clearly, and prompting with "and how many fingers am I holding up now?" You are not only looking to see if they can give the correct answer, but how long it takes them to answer and if they can keep up with changing stimuli.
- A variant of this is to ask the subject to follow your finger as you move it back and forth, or to shine a light in their eyes. If the eyes do not react in coordination with each other (or at all, such as the iris not reacting to the light in their eyes), this can be indicative of a brain injury.