Sharon Fenick first heard the figure of speech "rule of thumb" cited as a sexist pejorative during her freshman year at Harvard seven years ago. The phrase was invoked in a lecture as an example of domestic abuse permitted by British common law. The rule of thumb, according to the professor, was a law that allowed a man to beat his wife so long as the rod used was no thicker than his thumb.
Top definition. The first and original use of the saying is as simple as the words. The thumb was used as a readily available tool of measuring.
Feminists often make that claim that the "rule of thumb" used to mean that it was legal to beat your wife with a rod, so long as that rod were no thicker than the husband's thumb. Thus, one constantly runs into assertions like this: someone might want to be careful using "rule of thumb" in a sarcastic way. However, Christina Hoff Sommers documents how the link between the phrase "rule of thumb" and wifebeating is a feminist-inspired myth of recent vintage.
A rule of thumb is a means of estimation made according to a rough and ready practical rule, not based on science or exact measurement. The 'rule of thumb' has been said to derive from the belief that English law allowed a man to beat his wife with a stick so long as it is was no thicker than his thumb. InJudge Sir Francis Buller is reported as having made this legal ruling and in the following year James Gillray published a satirical cartoon attacking Buller and caricaturing him as 'Judge Thumb'.
It's one of the myths of women's history. Well, except that it may still be rude to use a phrase that you know will upset people. It may also be rude to assume that people who use the phrase are being rude.
I have heard it was a common law rule about the thickness of a switch with which no punishment would occur for spousal abuse. I have also heard that this is not correct. I cannot find a definitive source and meaning.
I remember reading it had something to do with being permitted to beat your wife with a rod no thicker than your thumb. Is this correct? A This sounds like the invention of somebody desperately trying to make sense of a traditional phrase — what linguists call folk etymology. It meant then what it means now — some method or procedure that comes from practice or experience, without any formal basis.
The English phrase rule of thumb refers to a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation. It refers to an easily learned and easily applied procedure or standard, based on practical experience rather than theory. This usage of the phrase can be traced back to the seventeenth century and has been associated with various trades where quantities were measured by comparison to the width or length of a thumb.