Date: Sun, 6 Apr 1997 09:08:55 -0400 From: Alan Baragona Subject: Re: Rule of Thumb I've never believed this etymology, and I think your objections are sound. The other source I've heard most often is sewing: you can estimate a yard by stretching cloth over your extended arm and measuring from thumb to shoulder. I don't know if this is any more convincing, but it is certainly a more likely explanation than the thickness of a rod. As for your final question, I think unless there is something in the surface form of a word or phrase that still suggests a "dark" etymology, the usage has no psychological significance for the users and is harmless. If, however, its current associations are disturbing or potentially offensive, I'd be personally reluctant to use it, though I don't believe in "legislating" the language of others. Alan B. At 04:48 PM 4/4/97 -0600, jack haines wrote: >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 > Alan Baragona alan[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] You know, years ago, my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be . . ."--she always called me 'Elwood'--"In this world, Elwood, you must be oh, so smart or oh, so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you may quote me. Elwood P. Dowd