It’s a punning revision of word of mouth for the digital age and refers to e-mail, texts and other forms of communication that require typing, even though much of it is undertaken on mobile devices using just the thumbs. By its nature it is both recent and to be found mainly online. Here’s a rare example in print:
If you were a first-time visitor from Mars and you happened to drop into a marketing meeting somewhere in the United States, you might assume that marketing people do nothing but talk about “TGIF.” That’s Twitter, Google, the internet and Facebook. There’s no question these four revolutionary developments have forever changed the marketing function. Word-of-mouth has now become word of finger.
Advertising Age, 9 Nov. 2009. For most people, however, TGIF still means “Thank God It’s Friday”.
It has probably been reinvented many times. This is the oldest I’ve been able to find, albeit with a rather different meaning:
The pathetic story is told of a deaf and dumb boy, that he was one day reciting to his teacher — by word of finger — the narrative about George Washington and the cherry-tree.
Andover Review, Jan. 1892.
Here’s another recent example that suggests that it’s becoming a buzzword in the business community:
Banks would be naive to believe that consumers do not listen to recommendations made online. “Word of finger” has replaced “word of mouth”, so product recommendations and brand advocates are far more accessible.
Datamonitor, 1 Mar. 2010.