Rule of Thumb – Common Sayings

Rule of Thumb – Common Sayings

Rule of Thumb - Common Sayings


A common or ubiquitous benchmark. As in, “The rule of thumb is one part tonic to four parts gin.”

Most say it came from … 

17th century English Judge Sir Francis Buller, who allegedly ruled that it was A-OK for a husband to beat his wife with a stick, given that said stick was no wider then his thumb.

This is the stuff that white trash dreams are made of.

Judge Sir Francis Buller

So is that true?

As it turns out there isn’t any record of Buller actually making this ruling, though he was known to be a big powdered wig-wearing dickhead to everyone around him regardless of sex. Still, roughly a year after the supposed ruling, British satirist James Gillray called out Buller in this cartoon, selling his thumb-width wife beating sticks:

So why would Gillray create this poster if the ruling it referenced didn’t exist? Who knows. Maybe it was already an urban legend back then. The truth of the phrase is that it likely just refers to carpenters and tailors who, without a ruler handy, would just measure things in thumb-lengths. We tried digging up evidence that they were using actual severed thumbs for the task, but even that turned out to be too awesome to be true.

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