THE RULE OF THUMB, A RELIC OF A DISTANT PAST
By Akin Ojumu
The expression, the “Rule of Thumb,” is quite a familiar one. But I’m quite certain not too many people know it originated from male chauvinism, sexism, and spousal abuse that was once a norm in the 18th century British society.
Back then, the English common law permitted a man to “Chastise” his wife in moderation. Yes, chastise…such an elegant and cultured British way of saying, “beat the heck out of your wife.”
As it goes with all societal norms, it took a legal luminary to really test the legality of the practice in the court of law. In 1782, a British Judge, Sir Francis Buller, provided an interpretation of the law. In a case that came before his court, the good judge ruled, based on the common law, that it was properly legal for a man to beat his wife with a stick so long as it is was no thicker than his thumb. Very thoughtful of the judge to limit the size of the baton to the diameter of man's thumb. But good luck to the woman if the husband had a very thick thumb; the whooping will be with a stick of some tremendous girth.
While it is true that we have come a long way since the 18th century, and spousal abuse is now a serious crime in this modern era of the woman and the “Me too Movement,” nevertheless, the remnants of those ancient times remain and they still haunt us today, and many have found their way into our modern day lexicon.
The “Rule of Thumb” is one of those relics of distant past.