Tag Archives: Rule of Thumb

While You Are Twiddling Your Thumbs. . .

“Owwww!” As I helped my husband turn the mattress, my already injured thumb got yanked and twisted. I cradled my throbbing hand and moaned, “It sticks out like a sore thumb!”

Original? Nope.  But its oh so appropriate.

Most of us speak (or roar or whisper or moan) common idioms without giving them the first thought.  I mean, really, there’s nothing unique about a sore thumb.  Yet people have been saying “it sticks out like a sore thumb” to describe something oddly out of place since at least the middle of the 16th century. Maybe that’s the whole point.  We all understand the awkwardness of a sore thumb.  

Look at how well these other thumb idioms also work: 

  • If you’re tired of being under his thumb, take charge!
  • I keep dropping things.  I’m all thumbs today!
  • Your plants look wonderful!  You obviously have a green thumb.
  • No transportation?  Don’t thumb a ride.  Hitch-hiking can be dangerous. 
  • If you thumb your nose at the idea, you had better be ready to offer one of your own.
  • Thumb through this new magazine.  If you like it, you may want to subscribe.
  • The board gave your proposal a thumbs down?  Maybe you can bring it up again later.
  • As a rule of thumb, I plant my garden in May. (I hate this one! 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, so long as it was no wider then his thumb!  Ugh!)

Okay, that’s my thumb list.  What is your favorite… or least favorite… idiom?  Any particular reason?

“It’s like Tolstoy said. Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness a story.”

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore


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April Fool’s Day Quiz

Hey, it’s April Fool’s Day!  We’ve got to be a wee bit foolish, right?  So here’s my contribution: an April foolish quiz. 

True or False: (answers at the bottom)

  1. In the 1400s 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. 
  1. In the 1500s, a challenging game was invented in Scotland. The rules stated:  “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.”  We know the game by it’s acronym: GOLF.
  1. The first novel ever written on a typewriter was “A Tale of Two Cities.”
  1. The thing bulletproof vests, fire escapes, and windshield wipers have in common is that they were all designed by firefighters.
  1. In Shakespeare’s time, mattresses were secured on bed frames by ropes. When a person pulled on the ropes, the mattress tightened, making the bed firmer to sleep on. Hence the phrase: “Goodnight , sleep tight.”
  1. In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts. When customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them, “Settle down! You’re two sheets to the wind!”
  1. We humans don’t get goose bumps on our faces.
  1. One last foolishness.  Read the following paragraph:

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the first and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it wouthit a porbelm. This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh?


1. TRUE. I discovered this lovely fact while researching In the Name of Submission, my book on wife abuse.

2. FALSE.  This is an old wives’ tale… I mean an old husband’s tale.   Mary Queen of Scots herself played the game!

3. FALSE.  It was Tom Sawyer.

4. FALSE.  They were all invented by women.

5. TRUE.  Sleep on that tonight!

6.  FALSE.  They would say,  “Mind your P’s and Q’s.”  Some people still use that expression.

7.  TRUE.  But our hairy animal friends do.

8.  I knew you could do it!

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