Saturday, March 24, 2007

Factoid of the Day No 1

In the 1400's a law was set forth in England that a man was allowed to beat his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb. Hence we have "the rule of thumb".

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Urban myth - I'm afraid - there was a very good article some years ago in a legal periodical which I forgot to keep. The authority for the so-called rule of thumb" is often given as a judge's comment some years ago relating I think to the Welsh Marches - but deeper research showed this was retorical emphasis (on the lines of a late North-Eastern judge who used to describe wife-beating as a sport before verbally savaging the husband). Hopefully other readers will be able to correct me but I have a very vague memory from Look & Learn of it being something to do with cloth??

verity said...

I read that the word "rule" here, is a synonym for ruler.

In the absence of a real ruler, in days of yore, the distance between the knuckle and the first joint of the thumb is approximately one inch. So, in a pinch, you could measure an inch using the thumb as a ruler.

Ted said...

http://www.canlaw.com/rights/thumbrul.htm

A good explanation of the creation of the urban myth.
I have used the top part of my thumb to measure out when too lazy to go back to the shed for a ruler. In fact the inch is meant to have its origin in the width of a thumb (or is that another myth?)

javelin said...

I said to the wife - "I'm going down the pub. Put your coat on."

"Oh, are you taking me for drink?" - she said romantically.

"Sorry pet," I said "I want to turn the heating down."

The Hitch said...

javelin thats like the chubby brown joke

"fookin hell love ive just won the lotter pack yer bags"

"where we goin chubby?"

"nowhere just pack yer bags and fook off!"

bebopper said...

True, if only mildly funny story, about the late, great, but tightfisted bandleader Benny Goodman, who invited a group of jazzers to his house for a rehearsal.
After a bit,one of the guys complained it was a bit cold.
"You're right," said Benny and left the room.
He came back wearing a pullover.

What's that got to do with the "rule of thumb", or the price of fish?
Not a lot.

ThunderDragon said...

Discipline of the abuse of a husband's power over his wife in the early modern period was primarily patrolled by the community rather than the law.

So while there may not be a law that prevented a husband beating his wife with a stick thicker than his thumb, any man seen to do so may well have been punished in other ways by his local community.

Wailer Ned said...

A 'factoid' is something that appears to be a fact, but isn't. Given Iain called it a factoid, it doesn't matter whether it's true or not...

The Ludingtonian said...

Iain -

As ever, the excellent Michael Quinion has the lowdown on this urban myth.

As much as it bloody kills me to admit it, the Tijuana Cockroach is correct: it's to do with measurement, not domestic violence.

Oh, and Wailer Ned's definition of 'factoid' is out of date.

La Cucaracha de Tijuana said...

Ted - Why are you styling this an "urban myth"? Given that it's neither urban nor mythical?

Rule of thumb is real. It is part of our language from a long time ago. Not every workman or artisan in the Middle Ages, and before, would have been able to afford to have a ruler. He would have measured inches by the rule(r) of thumb.

Thunderdragon - what the hell was "his local community"? This is medieval usage, long before NuLabour and "communities" and "community leaders", blah blah blah. If you mean he would have been upbraided by his neighbours, say so. Anyway, that's a fake definition. Englishmen have never been legally allowed to beat their wives. Perhaps it's an islamic definition.

Marquee Mark said...

However, it is true that if you are a Labour MP or sitting councillor, you are allowed to beat the Chancellor with a piece of 4x2...

machiavelli said...

Now that's what I call "Britishness"

Anonymous said...

Or as they used to say..

"A dog, a woman and a walnut tree,
The more you beat them,
They better they be.."

Verity said...

anonimo - I sincerely do not know what you - or the people "who used to say" this - would find entertaining here.

I find it disconcerting that anyone could present this on a civilised blog as being entertaining. I don't think you'd even get a laugh out of it in a pub.

SPL said...

In the 2000s we have a rule of grammar which sets forth that no writer of English should use an apostrophe to convey plurality.

ThunderDragon said...

"La Cucaracha de Tijuana said...
Thunderdragon - what the hell was "his local community"? This is medieval usage, long before NuLabour and "communities" and "community leaders", blah blah blah. If you mean he would have been upbraided by his neighbours, say so. Anyway, that's a fake definition. Englishmen have never been legally allowed to beat their wives. Perhaps it's an islamic definition."


This is the same terminology as used by early modern (which is the period we are dealing with, not medieval) historians. It was not just 'his neighbours' who would have upbraided him, but anyone in the town - be they priest or businessman. Communities and that terminology existed long before NuLabour was even a twinkle in Tony Blair's eye.

Englishmen were been able to beat their wives within reason during the early modern period because women were the property of their husband or father (although not quite chattel, even though some feminist historians would argue so) because women were not considered full members of society due their gender. This is a fact. Women could not vote, few could act independently economically, and men were fully justified in that period of history to beat their wives and children.

In fact, I'm writing an MA essay on this subject right now. Research first, then criticise.

GreatGranPapaPat said...

See James Gillray's immortal caricature of Judge Buller as "JUDGE THUMB", publ. 27th Nov, 1782 sub-titled: "or, Patent Sticks for Family Correction: Warranted lawful". This print alludes to Bullers judgement the previous day that a man might beat his wife with a stick, provided only that it did not exceed the measurement of his thumb! A witty Countess is said to have sent the next day to require the measurement of Buller's thumb, that she might know the precise extent of her husband's right...

I rest my case.

Wailer Ned said...

The Ludingtonian: It doesn't acquire a new definition just because everyone's been getting it wrong for a while. Cf. 'liberal' in the US. Although, major points earned for reading and not just writing.

verity said...

Little "MA" Thunderdragon - a teenage nomme de guerre if ever there was one - notes:

"This is the same terminology as used by early modern (which is the period we are dealing with, not medieval) historians."

Hello? What is "the period we are dealing with"? Given a community of "we are dealing", of course.

Englishmen were been able to beat their wives within reason during the early modern period because women were the property of their husband or father (although not quite chattel, even though some feminist historians would argue so) because women were not considered full members of society due their gender. This is a fact. Women could not vote, Close your parenthesis, you moron.

Why do I get the feeling you're a muslim - even apart from the illiterate use of our language?

You say, about English Medieval times "This is a fact. Women could not vote." No shit, Sherlock.

Nor could men, arsehole.

Do you seriously propose that males in the Middle Ages had a universal franchise? Are you mad?

Trust me, you're a muslim trying to edge in - taqya and kitman anyone?

Easy spot to anyone who knows the game.

The Ludingtonian said...

Wailer Ned -

Yes, it does. Words mean what people use them to mean. Definitions change over time. Unless, of course, you're a sort of linguistic Platonist. What, otherwise, is the purpose of the OED?

And please don't patronise me with your "major points earned" schtick.

Newmania said...

Old as the Quills Iain , in fact I used that on your blog a few months ago and was roundly abused by posters for exactly that reason.

This is a better factoid. The top UK and Europe singles artist/s of the 80s was who ?...

Boy George ...nope
Madonna ......nope
M Jackson ...nope


It was Shakin Stevens a fact with which i have actually won mony in the past

Newmania said...

Old as the Quills Iain , in fact I used that on your blog a few months ago and was roundly abused by posters for exactly that reason.

This is a better factoid. The top UK and Europe singles artist/s of the 80s was who ?...

Boy George ...nope
Madonna ......nope
M Jackson ...nope


It was Shakin Stevens a fact with which i have actually won mony in the past

Newmania said...

I have found the changing meaning of the word Liberal and its geographical tendency to morph rather confusing. It was rather confusing to see "Liberals " running around supporting a fascist depot along pragmatic and racially determinist lines as well.

In fact befuddlement upon befuddlement , Liberal as far as I can tell means something like Illiberal . Socially coercive , high tax ,anti freedom or not depending on whether it happens to suit locally.
Liberal in Scotland usually means quite Conservative in that they are opposing old Labour but usually in England in means an amorphous sludge of adolescent whines.

Lud is quite right of course, the meaning of a word changes. Off the top of my head the word commuter is a good example .It stems from the Latin originally imported to English as a formal word for change as in Commute a sentence. Originally a commuting ticket was one you could change from a train ticket into a bus ticket and those using this service were called commuters
Another interesting example is the word Key in its modern guise as an all purpose prefix ..Key-man
Key -note speech and so on .
Key is a very old Anglo Saxon word but the explosion of meanings from it do not come directly from a metaphor on the unlocking qualities of a person or thing .They come from an old metaphorical use as in “ Key stone”. The key stone is the last one without which the Arch will collapse and it is this strong “Key “ that was the usage that has proliferated .
As ever with over use and misuse the word has lost some of its strength and as in Key not speech it has come to mean some marketing nonsense . A good example of how lazy and poor use of a word takes our ability to mean from us .

I wonder then if we are lazy in allowing the Liberal Party to continue to be called the Liberal Party . Why not simply call then the “Liars “ Who knows perhaps like the word Tory what was originally a terms of abuse will be taken up with pride .

Newmania said...

Fascist depot ?...ugh DESPOT

Newmania said...

I thought for ages that a POlar Bear creot up on Seals hiding its black nose behind its paw. Sadly it turns out not to be true is that a factoid now then ?

Rob's uncle said...

OED has: 'from [RULE n.]:

1. A method or procedure derived entirely from practice or experience, without any basis in scientific knowledge; a roughly practical method. Also, a particular stated rule that is based on practice or experience.

1692 SIR W. HOPE Fencing-Master 157 What he doth, he doth by rule of Thumb, and not by Art.
. .
1865 M. ARNOLD Ess. Crit. v. 159 The English..have in all their changes proceeded, to use a familiar expression, by the rule of thumb.'

dearieme said...

I read a newspaper article on the wife-beating rubbish a few years ago. The intrepid journalist was rather disappointed to discover that no such rule had ever existed in English Law. She cheered up no end when she was assured that its origin was Welsh Law, a suggestion that she accepted without investigation. As for women and the vote: the vote was taken away from (some) women by the Great Reform Act of 1832 and was restored within less than a hundred years. probably wisely.

verity said...

Thank you, Dearie Me. I do not believe that British law would ever have given anyone the right to assault a woman.

Assaulting women is an islamic habit, which is why I think our little MA candidate is an islamic. He obviously feels an emotional attachment to the custom. In addition, he is trying to bring a Western democracy down to the islamic level. Taqya and kitman.

In fact, I wonder whether there is any other people who have a codified rule of law who countenance assaults on women anywhere in the world? I think it's just the religion of peace.