Date: Fri, 4 Apr 1997 16:48:38 -0600 From: jack haines Subject: Rule of Thumb Does anybody know where the expression "Rule of Thumb" comes from? I was talking with a Math Professor who was telling me about an article he had just read. The author of the article stated that Rule of Thumb is a sexist/insensitive phrase because it refers to an old law that said it is alright to beat your wife, so long as the diameter of the rod used is no greater than that of your thumb. I have heard that etymology (is this etymology or is it etiology?) before, but I've never really investigated it. The guy suspects "folk etymology" (eti/ym-whatever) to be afoot. I can't say that I disagree with him. I dont want to cast aspersions but it seems unlikely that a person who would beat another person would take the time to measure the diameter of their weapon. Ya' know, just to make sure that everything was fair and square. I understand the flip side of the issue-- it gives the courts something to measure against but as a law it seems kind of subjective or open to a lot of variation. Let us suppose that the wife-beating etymology is true. What do we, as speakers of a language, do with phrases or colloquialisms that might have dark pasts? Do we kick them out of the language and change the locks? Do we kick out every one of them, or just the ones that offend my sensibilities? Any suggestions or comments? Jack Haines Northern Illinois University Graduate Student