End of ADS-L Digest - 10 Nov 1997 to 11 Nov 1997 ************************************************ 9. Wednesday with a [d] (4) --------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Tue, 11 Nov 1997 23:19:57 -0600 From: "Donald M. Lance" Subject: Re: Rima's rule of thumb >This is dueling folk-etymologies. Yep. OK, I'll put in my two cents. >But without being an expert on this bit of lore, all I can add is that if >you read the OED2 cites of "rule of thumb" (back to 1692) there's no mention >of or hints at beating anywhere. There is however almost always a sense that >"rule of thumb" means something inexact -- hardly the sense of the word in >the "beating" account, where the "rule of thumb" refers to the exact size >something can legally be. I have heard accounts that tie "rule of thumb" to >sailing (measuring the needed thickness of a rope for a given task when as a >sailor you have no ruler) and tailoring (using the width of the thumb to >measure without a ruler or the like -- get it? *rule* of thumb.... Cf. OED2 >rock n.3, meaning 1b, where "rock/rack of eye and rule of thumb" is a >tailors' phrase for inexact measurement). > >If anyone has the *real* story and the evidence, maybe s/he'd cough it up. I've always assumed, and have heard so from others, that the rule of thumb refers to the use of the last joint of the thumb to be an approximation of an inch. It's not too mucn of a stretch to imagine a taylor or seamstress measuring the distance from the tip of the thumb or index finger to a spot that would be an inch from the tip and then using that spot in making "rule of thumb" measurements. My mother used a spot about so far past the first crease in the index finger on her left hand. And it's not too much of a stretch to see sailors (or pirates) using the thickness of the thumb or the length of the first joint to determine whether a rope would be strong enough for certain tasks. To me, assuming that the origin of the thumb-term has something to do with beating one's wife is like assuming that "Have a nice travel" is the origin of "have a nice trip." As for the latter, I can imagine someone hearing another say 'I'm going to travel next week" and responding with "Have a nice travel," even though it isn't the usual idiomatic expression.