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Rule of Thumb: White Truffles vs. Wine - Is it One or the Other?


DameEdna
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"it is difficult to find white truffles, therefore a good year for wine" . Any truth to this?

My guess is that this means it's a dry year, so ... no! Too much rain can bring mildew and rot on the vines (and truffles!), but too much heat can bring overripe grapes and wine that are bursting at the seams with 16% alcohol, so I think the advent of climate change has probably invalidated this adage (assuming my assumptions are even correct in the first place).

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And lest anyone labor under the misapprehension that "rule of thumb" refers to a common-law standard that allowed a man to beat his wife with a rod so long as it was no bigger around than his thumb, that is not the origin of "rule of thumb" and there was no such common-law standard, although the belief in it is remarkably persistent. The phrase appears to refer to a carpenter or other craftsman using his thumb as a rough measure of length (referring to "rule" as in "ruler").

To clarify: I think it was largely in the seventies and eighties that this folk etymology evolved, at least partially in feminist contexts. Somehow people got the idea that the origin of the phrase "rule of thumb" was a principle in English common law that allowed a man lawfully to beat his wife, as long as he used a rod no thicker than his thumb. The truth in there is that a man could lawfully beat his wife (and his children and servants), I believe well into the 19th Century. However, that had nothing to do with the origin of the phrase "rule of thumb", although I gather that many people still think it had. The OED will help:

A suggestion that the phrase refers to an alleged rule allowing a husband to beat his wife with a stick the thickness of his thumb cannot be substantiated (compare the discussion by H. D. Kelly in Jrnl. for Legal Educ. 44 (1994) 341"“65); it also poses semantic problems. The suggestion appears to be of late 20th-cent. origin, probably arising from a misunderstanding of the pun in the following passage (discussing the alleged rule mentioned above):

1976   D. Martin Battered Wives 31   [in 19th-cent. America] the common-law doctrine had been modified to allow the husband "˜the right to whip his wife, provided he used a switch no thicker than his thumb'"”a rule of thumb, so to speak.

This book review from the New York Times cites the wife-beating "rule of thumb" interpretation uncritically, although it is admittedly from 1988.

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