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From: John(HI) (
Subject:         "Rule of Thumb" myth
Date: November 14, 2007 at 6:00 pm PST

In Reply to: Interesting posted by Werepoodle on November 14, 2007 at 3:13 pm:

I have long believed, as you may also, that the term "Rule of thumb" derives from an "olde English" concept that a wife could be beaten with a stick as long as the width of the stick did not exceed the width of a thumb. That is incorrect.
"Rule of thumb" doesn't refer to wife beating.
Christina Hoff Sommers explains the whole confused business in her 1994 book "Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women." For more than 300 years "rule of thumb" has meant what most people think it means: any rough-and-ready method of estimating. It's believed to have originated with woodworkers, who made measurements with their thumbs. For more than 20 years, however, some feminists have maintained that rule of thumb has the darker meaning alluded to above. They say that the principle of regulated wife beating was elucidated in the famous legal commentaries of William Blackstone (1723-'80), the basis of much U.S. common law, and that it prevailed in state courts well into the 19th century.
However, in Blackstone, as Sommers notes, there's no mention of the rule of thumb.

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