Date: Mon, 7 Apr 1997 09:02:01 -0400 From: Jesse T Sheidlower Subject: Re: Rule of Thumb _Rule of thumb_ is a fascinating phrase, because the ridiculous-sounding folk-etymology (sc. that it's based on an old English law that a man was allowed to beat his wife as long as the stick he used was thinner than his thumb) has some basis in fact. First, the phrase _rule of thumb_ is not from this alleged law. However, reference to this practice is found in several places in English and American court cases from the late eighteenth century onwards. It does not seem to have been an actual law, but was seriously belived by some people to be so. The folk-etymology based on this practice apparently stems from a mid-1970s NOW report that mentions the _practice_ and calls it, apparently jocularly, a "rule of thumb." It did not say that that was the origin of the phrase, but it seems to have been misinterpreted that way. There's a short summary of this question at , and a long discussion, with citations from the relevant cases, at Jesse Sheidlower