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Still Waters

Dark meaning behind popular phrases

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Research has revealed the sinister history of common sayings such as "paying through the nose", "rule of thumb" and "pulling someone's leg".

http://www.telegraph...ar-phrases.html

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cool ive been wanting to read something like this for a while

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deadline go figure

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Posted (edited)

Today, applying a "rule of thumb" suggests a practical approach to problem solving, but it was actually a violent way to settle marital disputes.

A judge, Sir Francis Buller, ruled that "a man was entitled to beat his wife with a stick provided it was no thicker than his thumb", the Glasgow Herald stated in 1886

Every time I hear that, I think of the Boondock Saints...LOL :)

Edited by Kowalski

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Every time I hear that, I think of the Boondock Saints...LOL :)[/size]

yeah me to lol! such a funny scene, that was a big braud though id be scared

i tell my wife as a joke ofcourse, whens he talks back to me i tell her i would get a time machine and go back to the 10's or 20's and see if she would talk that that there lol all in jokes ofcourse

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Rule of thumb has nothing to do with wife beating or sticks, and is exactly what it sounds like, an approximate form of measurement.

http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/rule-of-thumb.html

Meaning

A means of estimation made according to a rough and ready practical rule, not based on science or exact measurement.

Origin

Rule of thumbThe '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. In 1782, Judge 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'. The cartoon shows a man beating a fleeing woman and Buller carrying two bundles of sticks. The caption reads "thumbsticks - for family correction: warranted lawful!"

It seems that Buller was hard done by. He was notoriously harsh in his punishments and had a reputation for arrogance, but there's no evidence that he ever made the ruling that he is infamous for. Edward Foss, in his authoritative work The Judges of England, 1870, wrote that, despite a searching investigation, "no substantial evidence has been found that he ever expressed so ungallant an opinion".

It's certainly the case that, although British common law once held that it was legal for a man to chastise his wife in moderation (whatever that meant), the 'rule of thumb' has never been the law in England.

Even if people mistakenly supposed the law to exist, there's no reason to believe that anyone ever called it the 'rule of thumb'. Despite the phrase being in common use since the 17th century and appearing many thousands of times in print, there are no printed records that associate it with domestic violence until the 1970s, when the notion was castigated by feminists. The responses that circulated then, which assumed the wife-beating law to be true, may have been influenced by Gillray's cartoon or were possibly a reaction to The Rolling Stones' song 'Under My Thumb', which was recorded in 1966.

The phrase itself has been in circulation since the 1600s. In 1692, it appeared in print in Sir William Hope's training manual for aspiring swordsmen, The Compleat Fencing-master:

"What he doth, he doth by rule of Thumb, and not by Art."

The origin of the phrase remains unknown. It is likely that it refers to one of the numerous ways that thumbs have been used to estimate things - judging the alignment or distance of an object by holding the thumb in one's eye-line, the temperature of brews of beer, measurement of an inch from the joint to the nail to the tip, or across the thumb, etc. The phrase joins the whole nine yards as one that probably derives from some form of measurement but which is unlikely ever to be definitively pinned down. The Germans have a similar phrase to indicate a rough approximation - 'pi mal daumen' which translates as 'pi [3.14…] times thumb'.

The earliest such 'measurement' use that I can find referred to in print is in a journal of amusing tales with the comprehensive title of Witt's Recreations - Augmented with Ingenious Conceites for the Wittie and Merrie Medicines for the Melancholic. It was published in 1640 and contains this rhyme:

If Hercules tall stature might be guess'd

But by his thumb, the index of the rest,

In due proportion, the best rule that I

Would chuse, to measure Venus beauty by,

Should be her leg and foot:

The 'rule of leg' never caught on.

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im telling you rule of thumb was in place to beat your wife, it has been confirmed

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im telling you rule of thumb was in place to beat your wife, it has been confirmed

And I'm telling you it wasn't. It's a myth.

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my grandmother told me about the rule of thumb when she was younger and her father enforced it on her mother, very real

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Rule of thumb has nothing to do with wife beating or sticks, and is exactly what it sounds like, an approximate form of measurement.

http://www.phrases.o...e-of-thumb.html

Thanks for the link. :tu:

I remember reading this somewhere, but couldn't remember where.

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my grandmother told me about the rule of thumb when she was younger and her father enforced it on her mother, very real

Then I can only assume he was using the myth as if it were real, but it never was.

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2550/does-rule-of-thumb-refer-to-an-old-law-permitting-wife-beating

Does "rule of thumb" refer to an old law permitting wife beating?

May 12, 2000

Dear Cecil:

Recently in a conversation I used the expression "rule of thumb," which I have always understood to mean a technique for arriving at a quick estimate. A woman in our group took me to task, however, informing me that the expression originally referred to an old legal principle that a man was allowed to beat his wife with a stick provided the diameter did not exceed the width of his thumb. When I expressed my disbelief, several others chimed in that they had heard the same story. I'm flabbergasted, Cecil. Is this true? What other seemingly innocent phrases conceal ancient wrongs? It's getting to where I'm afraid to open my mouth.

— John Santogrossi, Atlanta

Cecil replies:

Ease your mind, bud. "Rule of thumb" doesn't refer to wife beating. I know it looks like I'm on some sort of rabid antifeminist crusade here. But at least we'll keep the etymologies straight.

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 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. We do find the following discussion: "The husband also, by the old law, might give his wife moderate correction … in the same moderation that a man is allowed to correct his apprentices or children … But with us, in the politer reign of Charles the Second [1660-'85], this power of correction began to be doubted; and a wife may now have security of the peace against her husband." In other words, once upon a time in olde England, a man could beat his wife. But don't try it now.

Wife beating has never been legal in the U.S. The Massachusetts Bay Colony prohibited it in 1655, religious groups campaigned against it, and vigilantes occasionally horsewhipped men accused of it. Most states had explicitly outlawed it by 1870.

The old permissive approach wasn't entirely forgotten, however. It was cited in two court rulings, one in Mississippi in 1824, the other in North Carolina in 1874. Both judges referred to an "ancient law" by which a man was allowed to beat his wife with a stick provided it was no wider than his thumb. Where the judges came up with the thumb angle I don't know; as I say, it's not found in Blackstone. At any rate, both judges rejected the principle — each found the husband guilty in the wife-beating case he was adjudicating. And neither referred to the old law as the rule of thumb.

The two rulings were mentioned in an article by sociologist Robert Calvert published in the 1974 anthology Violence in the Family (Steinmetz and Straus, editors). In 1976, possibly having seen the article, Del Martin, coordinator of the NOW Task Force on Battered Women, wrote, "Our law, based upon the old English common-law doctrines, explicitly permitted wife-beating for correctional purposes. However … the common-law doctrine had been modified to allow the husband 'the right to whip his wife, provided that he used a switch no bigger than his thumb' — a rule of thumb, so to speak."

"Our law" didn't permit wife beating, but set that aside. Martin clearly was using "rule of thumb" as a figure of speech — she didn't claim it actually referred to legalized wife beating. As Sommers shows, however, this detail eluded subsequent retellers of the tale, the most egregious example being the title of a 1982 report on wife abuse by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, "Under the Rule of Thumb." This dark interpretation is now an entrenched popular belief.

So let's clarify once and for all:

1.English judges apparently took a more permissive attitude toward wife beating prior to 1660, but this attitude had been rejected by the time of Blackstone's commentaries, upon which our modern common law relies.

2.Wife beating has never been legal in the U.S.

3.A couple of 19th-century U.S. trial opinions referred to an "ancient law" permitting a husband to beat his wife with a stick not exceeding a thumb's width but rejected said law.

4.While this alleged rule involved a thumb, it wasn't the origin of "rule of thumb."

A complicated story, but one hopes we've gotten it straight at last.

— Cecil Adams

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it may not have been an actual passed law, but people have used the saying for beating their wives

well than the myth is real, and people have used it

regardless its a horrible myth or fact, im leaving it at that

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Posted (edited)

it may not have been an actual passed law, but people have used the saying for beating their wives

well than the myth is real, and people have used it

If they have, it proves the power of myth over reality.

Usually, the myth is used for the opposite purpose, to show how bad things were in the old days.

Edited by Elfin

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If they have, it proves the power of myth over reality.

Usually, the myth is used for the opposite purpose, to show how bad things were in the old days.

myths have inspired many things and outcomes, if it wasnt for myths we would have no adventure

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Vikings weren't messing around.

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Vikings weren't messing around.

lol no doubt, i def would not want to be a naughty viking boy i bet their punishments were harsh

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I would strongly doubt old newspaper accounts about the origins of phrases.

Throughout the 19th century and through the 1920s, newspapers worldwide regularly fabricated their reports, especially those that were unusual or could not be researched or investigated.

Hence, we have old-time reports of airships, lake monsters, devil tracks in snow or mud, ghostly armies -- and the origin of phrases and words.

Mark Twain admitted to writing more than a few "whoppers" when he worked on newspapers in California and Nevada in the 1860s and 1870s.

Today's readers may blast the newspapers of today, but they are scrupulously honest and objective compared to those of 100 years ago and earlier.

I have never heard the origin of "deadline" applied to the American Civil War. I was a U.S. reporter for 12 years, worked in a variety of news rooms against countless deadlines, and never once heard this explanation. I worked with fellow reporters and editors who prided themselves on the proper use of the English language, and etymology (the origin of words).

I guess we all figured that "deadline" meant that if you missed it, a newsroom editor would beat you. Dead. We all took great pains to meet deadlines, because the printers were waiting on our copy.

Old newspapers are suspect as reliable sources for all but the most historic events. I wouldn't put much stock in what they printed to titillate readers.

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It's kind of like the myth of the origins of the term "nitty gritty"

For a while it was thought to refer to the "stuff" found in the bottom of a slave ship after it had been unloaded following its journey.

But that has since been proven to be false.

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Interesting post. I'd heard about the conflicting statements regarding the origins of "rule of thumb," but I'd never heard of the rest of them. Those Vikings were some mean s.o.b.s weren't they?

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These are just like the children's nursery-rhyme, Ring Around the Rosey. A song that's actually about the plague, yet children sing it. Pretty gruesome.

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I have never heard the origin of "deadline" applied to the American Civil War. I was a U.S. reporter for 12 years, worked in a variety of news rooms against countless deadlines, and never once heard this explanation. I worked with fellow reporters and editors who prided themselves on the proper use of the English language, and etymology (the origin of words).

I guess we all figured that "deadline" meant that if you missed it, a newsroom editor would beat you. Dead. We all took great pains to meet deadlines, because the printers were waiting on our copy.

Deadline, Mil. A line drawn within or around a prison, to cross which involves for a prisoner the penalty or liability of being instantly shot.

- Webster's New International Dictionary, 1920.

No other definition given.

Nothing to be said of the Civil War specifically either. That being Webster's though, to be thoroughly accurate, one should consult the OED, which is quite litterally the last word on etymology.

Edited by Oniomancer

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These are just like the children's nursery-rhyme, Ring Around the Rosey. A song that's actually about the plague, yet children sing it. Pretty gruesome.

No, that's another myth. It's not about the plague.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_a_Ring_o'_Roses

"Ring a Ring o' Roses" or "Ring Around the Rosie" is a nursery rhyme or folksong and playground singing game. It first appeared in print in 1881, but it is reported that a version was already being sung to the current tune in the 1790s and similar rhymes are known from across Europe. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 7925. Urban legend says the song originally described the plague, but folklorists reject this idea.

Who keeps inventing nasty origins for perfectly innocent rhymes and phrases?

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