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. Isn't etiquette wonderful?
So Far. Who's the Queen of Comics? Hint: Not Wonder Woman. In our episode on female astronauts , Molly and I perpetuated a myth during our listener mail segment. Say it ain't so! We read an email about the supposed etymology of the phrase "rule of thumb," linking it to an old law about wife beating.
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. A modern folk etymology holds that the phrase derives from the maximum width of a stick allowed for wife-beating under English law ; this belief may have originated in a rumored statement by the eighteenth-century judge Sir Francis Buller that a man may beat his wife with a stick no wider than his thumb.
Historically, the physical punishment of wives has been encouraged by most cultures. The legal and social mandates for appropriate punishment are attributed to the patriarchal basis of most civilizations. In patriarchal societies, males were the designated leaders of society and the home. Wives and children were relegated to inferior social and legal positions and in earlier times were regarded in many cultures as chattel or the personal property of the husband. The subjugation of wives to their husbands is evidenced throughout history and across civilizations.