Rule of Thumb (Origin)
What Is the Origin of the Saying "Rule of Thumb"?The term "rule of thumb" means roughly or approximately.
Table of Contents
- English Proverbs and Idioms Test
- More Proverbs, Sayings, and Idioms
Examples of Use:
- As a general rule of thumb, I do not drink coffee after 5pm.
- A good rule of thumb is that you need a 10% deposit to buy property.
- "Many profest Christians are like to foolish builders, who build by guess, and by rule of thumb and not by Square and Rule."
Competing TheoryIn England in the 17th century, a man was allowed to beat his wife with a stick as long as the stick was not thicker than his thumb. This was known as "the rule of thumb."
This theory is strongly refuted by etymologists, who highlight that, even though it was legal for a man to chastise his wife in moderation [sic], the "rule of thumb" has never been the law. However, supporters of this theory claim that, in 1782, Judge Sir Francis Buller made a legal ruling about the "rule of thumb" for beating sticks, which was captured in a satirical cartoon by the English artist James Gillray.
Detractors of this theory claim the cartoon was designed only to portray Buller's reputation for harsh punishments and not to cite a genuine legal ruling. The detractors also highlight that there are no examples anywhere in print of "rule of thumb" being used in the context of domestic violence, other than as a fanciful explanation for the saying's origin.