You will never use the phrase “Rule of Thumb” ever if you know this history! This is Sick!

Do you guys use the phrase “Rule of Thumb” a lot? Well, do you know how this phrase has come up and if you know the history behind this, I guess you would stop using this phrase! Our reader at “Engineer with a creative brain” has researched on this topic and wrote an article for us. This is very interesting.

Growing up  I have frequently heard and used the phrase ” Rule of Thumb “. Now that I understand a possible origin, I dare not to use it in my conversations. While we all know “rule of thumb” means a general or approximate principle, procedure, or rule basedon experience or practice, some theories associate it with Domestic Violence. Yes, you read it right – DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

This theory dates back to 1700s. In 1782, an English Judge Sir Francis Buller was reported as having allegedly made this legal ruling. The ruling – Man may legally beat his wife, provided that he used a stick no thicker than his thumb. Refer to the caricature belowAlso, in the book History of Woman Suffrage: 1876-1885 by Harriet H Robinson  it is stated : By the English common law, her husband was her lord and master. He had the sole custody of her person, and of her minor children.He could “punish her with a stick no bigger than his thumb,” and she could not complain against him. 

In 1982 there was a report issued on Wife Abuse by US Commission on Civil Rights titled – Under the Rule of Thumb. Find the report here – Battered Women and Administrative Justice

While many other theories exist, the association with domestic violence makes me stay away. As It has been associated with wife-beating for over a century, I recommended avoiding the phrase as it might distract or disturb your audience.


Here is a caricature dated back to Nov 24th 1782 by W Humpry Titled: Judge Thumb or Patent Sticks for Family Correction! Warranted Lawfull!

judge caricature rule of thumb

Script from the caricature:

Judge: Who wants a cure of Rusty Wife? Here’s your nice family amusement for Winter Evenings! Who Buys here?
Husband: Murder hay? It’s law you bitch! Its not bigger than my thumb!
Wife: Help!…. Murder for God Sake.. Murder!

So, next time when you are using the phrase “Rule of Thumb”, remember the history and educate atleast one person around you!

Author: Anu Bhoompally

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