Talk:Rule of thumb

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The following statement is incorrect and was removed from the article...it is also somewhat irrelevant:

For most people, the crooked thumb held out at arm's length subtends an angle to the horizon roughly equal to one hour of time - in other words if the distance of the sun is a thumb's length (from tip to first joint) above the horizon, it is about one hour until sunset.

The thumb segment subtends an angle of approximately 3 degrees, and the sun travels this distance in 12 minutes, not an hour as incorrectly stated.

real etymology?[edit]

if it doesn't come from the wife-beating thing, where does it come from? Gkhan 08:17, Jan 10, 2005 (UTC) The origins of this phrase may be far older dating back to the time of Caesar and the gladiator arena. Though the meaning was a bit more severe. Redbear62 (talk) 20:20, 14 July 2010 (UTC)

spousal rape[edit]

I was just about to suggest that someone link this with spousal rape since they both have to do with archaic rituals concerning a man's rights over his wife. Are we certain this is an urban legend? Anyone else have an idea about its etymology?--Reverend Distopia 21:32, 20 Apr 2005 (UTC)


There is little doubt that the connection between wife beating and the term "rule of thumb" is mythical. The term is not referred to in Blackstones treatise on english common law as claimed in a 1982 report on wife abuse for the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Under the Rule of Thumb: Battered Women and the Administration of Justice

Probably the best on line resource for this appears at http://www.debunker.com/texts/ruleofthumb.html which is an excerpt from the Christina Hoff Summers book "Who Stole Feminism"

Material revealing the "Rule of Thumb" myth to be just that is widely available and a respectable information source such as Wikipedia ought not proffer obvious myths as reality

http://www.google.com.au/search?q=%22rule+of+thumb%22 DrDamage 15 May 2005

Removed the last sentence[edit]

Took out the sentence at the end, "Some believe this has nothing to do with the origin, though..." because it's both poorly written (good writers don't use elipses in that way) and doesn't make sense with the rest of the article.

Whether it's a wiktionary entry or not.[edit]

Looks longer than a wiktionary entry to me. See the wiktionary entry, which actually is a dictionary entry, and compare. --rerdavies 03:02, 4 August 2005 (UTC)

Length is irrelevant, it's content that counts. Absolutly!!! This article is solely about the meaning and etymology of a phrase, not a concept. If there were actual legal rules of thumb, this would be encyclopedic, talking about them with brief mentions of other uses. But there aren't. It's just about the definition and etymology. —Simetrical (talk) 09:20, 5 August 2005 (UTC)

I agree with Redarvies. Leon math 21:56, 2 November 2006 (UTC)

Link to Heuristic[edit]

Should "heuristic" in the first paragraph point directly to "heuristic (computer science)"? I'm not sure. --Hcsteve 07:59, 17 September 2005 (UTC)

No, it shouldn't. The current link is correct. —Simetrical (talk) 06:01, 18 September 2005 (UTC)

etymology from the OED[edit]

Some facts from the Oxford English Dictionary:

  • Earliest known use was in a book Fencing-Master by Sir W. Hope in 1692: "What he doth, he doth by rule of Thumb, and not by Art".
  • In previous centuries, it primarily was used in contrast to scientifically-justified rules (as in the quote above): A rule of thumb was one that seemed to work, but had no theoretical or scientific justification for why it should work.

--Delirium 20:56, 4 November 2005 (UTC)

Brewing etymology[edit]

From the article: According to the Discovery Science Channel's TV show, "Discoveries This Week" on 19 September 2005, the term comes from brewery industry before the advent of thermometers. The man in charge of aiding yeast would stick his thumb into the vat to check the temperature. This is doubtful, however, as beer is easily contaminated and ruined by casual contact with unsterilized equipment, much less a thumb.

I have doubts about this as the etymology of the term, but not for the reasons stated above. Although many homebrewers today like to think of their brewing method as more sterile than an operating room, this isn't really necessary. Beer has been brewed a lot longer than bleach and no-rinse sanitizers and indeed long before the role of microorganisms in food spoilage was known. Plunging a clean thumb into wort wouldn't necessarily ruin the batch. However, if the test is to see if the wort is cool enough to add the yeast, this wouldn't work. Heat becomes painful to the skin above at least 125 F, but this temperature would kill almost all of the yeast. Yeast shouldn't be added until the wort is at most 80 F. I fail to see how sticking a thumb into the wort would help one in determining this. Penismightierthanthesword 20:16, 27 January 2006 (UTC)

It also doesn't make much sense because the phrase is stated to have originated in the very late 17th century, and simple thermometers were commonly available well before that. I think we should take it out, or at least note more strongly in the article that this is very unlikely. Kafziel 22:05, 7 March 2006 (UTC)

Major Rewrite[edit]

Well, applying the "Be Bold" motto of WP, I went through and tried to reformat this article to regain some clarity in it's content. It seemed (to me at least) that there was alot of conjecture, and confusion especially around the use of this term and possible connections with domestic violence... Understandable that people have strong feelings about that topic, but it was causing more confusion than it was clearing as it stood here.

There was also a mixture of possible and unlikely origins for the term all mashed together - this term (or at least it's use as a measurement technique) has been around for longer than modern laws, so, whether it was used in any laws at a later stage I have strong doubts that that is it's origin.

Feel free to re-add some of the content which I culled, but, in the interests of all, if we can try and keep the division between mis-conceptions regarding it's origin and plausible origins, as well as a chronological order to any references, I think it will keep this article alot clearer. (Before this edit there were a number of references and quotes which all claimed to be the first instance of the term being used).

--Lucanos 23:06, 23 May 2006 (UTC)

Some restorations[edit]

The rewrite does bring the focus of the article back to where it should be, but there is reason it got muddled in the first place. There is a significant number of people who believe the term originated in 18th century laws regarding wife beating. Since the rewrite, someone has been repeatedly putting that opinion back in.

It's better that the article contain some facts regarding the connection of the term to domestic violence. I've restored a reference to Del Martin's usage of the term which in all likelihood is the reason for the popularity of the belief (much more so than Boondock Saints). I've also restored the reference to Sharon Fenick who did the legal research on the subject (the rewrite removed Fenick but left Quinion, but Quinion merely quotes Fenick).

--jpd 17 June 2006


Supreme Court of North Carolina: State v. Richard Oliver, 1874 WL 2346 (N.C.)[edit]

In a decision by Judge Settle in 1874:

"We may assume that the old doctrine, that a husband had a right to whip his wife, provided he used a switch no larger than his thumb, is not law in North Carolina." State v. Richard Oliver, 1874 WL 2346 (N.C. 1874).

This 1874 decision clearly overrules the use of the custom. While the practice is certainly not a myth, the usage of the phrase "rule of thumb" would take more research.

Msross78 00:40, 25 November 2006 (UTC)

Rm trnaswiki tag[edit]

I removed the transwiki tag because I felt it was used inappropriately here. There's a full article here, so the wiktionary link should be enough to alert users that there's also an entry at wiktionary. If you disagree with my action, you can revert me or discuss it here. Peace, delldot | talk 17:41, 31 December 2006 (UTC)

Pelvis spacing[edit]

I've also heard from an anthropology professor of mine that "rule of thumb" refers to the fact that, regarding the skeletal system, one can stick a thumb in the pelvic bone of a female skeleton and wiggle their thumb whereas with males one cannot. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by Maika0* (talkcontribs) 23:28, 21 March 2007 (UTC).

Rearranged sections[edit]

I have rearranged order of the 'Origins' section. Since no conclusive evidence exist on the origin of the saying I think that simple explanations that derive from common crafts should go before the more elaborate ones. I'm especially sceptical of the fact that Del Martins thesis as of 1976 (that the term comes from a legislation that would restrict/allow wife beating) seems to be the primary explanation of the saying in the article.


Apocryphal etymology[edit]

I am troubled that this page contains more on the "wife-beating" rule of thumb nonsense than the actual origin. I think giving this much attention to the false origin rather than the true one contributes to the popularity of the false story and thus the acceptance of the falsehood as fact. 71.113.247.118 (talk) 14:24, 8 May 2008 (UTC)

Since it's been floating around in folklore or urban legend since the 18th-century, and received a new boost of popularity in the last 30 years, the wife-beating story is fairly strongly associated with this phrase, incorrectly or correctly... Churchh (talk) 05:56, 18 May 2008 (UTC)


"It is often claimed that the term originally referred to a law that limited the maximum thickness of a stick with which it was permissible for a man to beat his wife, but this has been fully discredited as a hoax." The only citation here is third-party article about an anti-feminism book from a right-wing, anti-feminist author. To equate political spin with objective evidence that something has been "fully discredited" does Wikipedia a disservice. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 71.198.3.0 (talk) 01:32, 14 July 2008 (UTC)

I said "partially discredited", but then someone insisted on changing it to "fully discredited". It's clear that there never was a law or prevailing legal interpretation based on the thumb-sized stick rule, but on the other hand, the Judge Buller story was fairly well known, and a husband did in fact have the right to use limited physical force to make his wife obedient... Churchh (talk) 07:29, 22 July 2008 (UTC)

Origin Section is an Incoherent Mess[edit]

1. The idea that the "thumb-diameter stick rule" is the origin of the phrase "Rule of Thumb" is not a "hoax"; it is misinterpretation of what Del Martin wrote, which has since blossomed into an urban legend. The word "hoax" implies intent to deceive, and there has certainly been no evidence of that.

2. Whether there was ever a "thumb-diameter stick rule" is an entirely different subject, and quite off-topic for this article; to make matters worse, this section does not distinguish enough between the concept of whether (and to what extent) the "thumb-diameter stick rule" ever existed and the concept of whether it was the origin of the "Rule of Thumb", which only serves to confuse the reader as to what actually is being discussed.

3. My guess is that part of the problem is that the editors have been using anti-feminist sources and have been carrying over the agendas of those sources into the article. There are plenty of academic sources that can be used. I suggest starting with:

Kelly, Henry Ansgar. "Rule of Thumb and the Folklaw of the Husband's Stick." Journal of Legal Education. September 1994.

68.73.114.58 (talk) 09:00, 6 November 2008 (UTC)

I don't know what Del Martin specifically wrote, but it's been claimed or implied by various people in the last 30 to 40 years that the thumb-sized-stick-to-beat-wife thing was once part of the formal judicial Common Law of English-speaking countries, whereas it's quite clear that the thumb-sized-stick-to-beat-wife thing was never part of the formal judicial Common Law of English-speaking countries; so to that extent there has been a need for debunking, and this article will need to report on such debunking (and it's not in fact off-topic). Any extended discussion of the right of husbands to use moderate physical force on their wives to enforce obedience (something which did exist under the formal judicial Common Law of English-speaking countries) would be off-topic here (though it certainly can be mentioned). Churchh (talk) 22:58, 20 November 2008 (UTC)
You seem to be confused about the topic of this article. The topic is the phrase "Rule of Thumb" (which you don't even refer to in your above comment) *not* the "thumb-sized-stick-to-beat-wife thing". There is of course a need in this article to de-link "Rule of Thumb" from the "thumb-sized-stick-to-beat-wife thing", but debunking the "thumb-sized-stick-to-beat-wife thing" is off-topic here. If you wish to do that, start a separate article about the "thumb-sized-stick-to-beat-wife thing". That would go a long way to correcting this mess.68.73.114.58 (talk) 09:25, 21 November 2008 (UTC)
The topic of the article is not the phrase "Rule of Thumb", any more than the article Rule of inference is about the phrase "Rule of Inference". The false etymology has considerable currency & must be dealt with. This will necessarily include some reference to the "thumb-sized-stick-to-beat-wife thing", which can hardly be mentioned without a few words about the "thing"'s origin (Buller accused by Gillray) and status as a non-law. Ewulp (talk) 00:07, 22 November 2008 (UTC)

This section has become feminist apologist's rant. It justifies the connection between rule-of-thumb and wife beating with a one-sided argument. Hoff-summers and others have shown that there is plenty of evidence of attempt to deceive in this connection, so 'hoax' is an appropriate, albeit controversial, label. My first choice would be to omit the "thumb-sized-stick-to-beat-wife thing" altogether other than stating it to be untrue. But if authors insist on justifying the connection, there must be more explanation of its misuse by feminists. Rgswanson (talk) 18:50, 3 July 2011 (UTC)

I don't see that. Feminism isn't mentioned until the final two sentences of a two-paragraph passage. Hoaxing may have been involved in the modern era, but the idea has been lingering since at least 1782, and so is hardly a "feminist hoax" overall, and deserves coverage of its pre-feminist history. And Hoff-Summers is quite controversial herself. The law professor "Romulus" thing mentioned on the Christina Hoff-Summers article is not on this article. Churchh (talk) 04:16, 5 August 2011 (UTC)

Mnemonic[edit]

Removed "See also mnemonic" from the first paragraph. What does the Rule of Thumb have to do with mnemonics? If there's a link between the two, state it. Akel Desyn (talk) 05:25, 19 August 2009 (UTC)

Width of thumb?[edit]

"Thumb as measurement device

The term is thought to originate with wood workers who used the width of their thumbs (i.e. inches) rather than rulers for measuring things"

I thought that the length of the thumb from tip to first joint was approximately an inch. 212.219.75.245 (talk) 14:08, 17 February 2010 (UTC)

What is short and close at hand?[edit]

Essentially a mnemonic for a rule that can be easily remembered because it is short and close at hand like the thumb. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Inning (talkcontribs) 10:54, 23 January 2011 (UTC)

Art, architecture, and ancient engineerinvg[edit]

This article says nothing about the use of the thumb neither by artists for measuring, nor by Renaissance, medieval, and ancient architects, builders, and engineers for measuring things relative to the expert's thumb. Such a procedure was useful for estimating the heights of towers, columns, temples, bridges, etc.
I think that the knowledge of such antiquated things has been lost among the general public (which cares little), but I studied it in a three-course sequence called "Technology and Civilization" in college. Such courses are quite popular at schools like Auburn University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, which I know well because I have degrees from both schools.
Don't they have courses like this at M.I.T., Cornell, G.W.U., the Univ. of Michigan, the Univ. of Texas, the Univ. of California, Stanford, and U.S.C. ? 98.67.160.114 (talk) 16:13, 14 July 2013 (UTC)