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Posts Tagged ‘Randle Cotgrave’

Rule Of Thumb

Posted by Admin on October 16, 2021

The rule of thumb is an approximate way to measure or do something based on practical experience instead of exact measurement or science.

The urban myth that is better know for that idiom is the one that claims the rule of thumb was a law that allowed a man to beat his wife so long as the switch (or rod) he used was no thicker than his thumb. However, facts are that it has never been part of English common law that a man may beat his wife with a switch so long as it is no thicker than his thumb. What was part of English common law was that a man could legally chastise his wife in moderation but there is no mention whatsoever as to what that entailed.

Some people claim such a ruling was made in England in 1782 by Judge Sir Fancis Buller (17 March 1746 – 5 June 1800) which earned him the nickname of Judge Thumb after a newspaper published a cartoon that attacked a ruling the judge had made. However none of the records of his rulings even hint at him stating that beating a wife with a switch no thicker than a husband’s thumb was ever made.

The myth was something that first shows up in relation to domestic violence in the mid-1970s thanks to feminist Dorothy Louise Taliaferro “Del” Martin (5 May 1921 – 27 August 2008) who used it in a report on domestic violence that was published in 1976. She mentioned a husband’s right to whip his wife in English common law and went on to say this was allowed so long as the switch used was no bigger than his thumb. She then wrote:

… a rule of thumb, so to speak.

The following year, Feminist Terry Davidson further pushed the incorrect concept that a Rule of Thumb existed in English common law which gave rise to the expression.

That’s how the myth got started, and as with many myths, once ingrained in people’s minds, it’s hard for that myth (even once it is debunked) to die.

Idiomation found this particularly intriguing and while researching the idiom, a great many twists and turns were taken to get to the earliest published version of this idiom.

In the 1987 book by James H. Konkel, “Rule-of-thumb Cost Estimating for Building Mechanical Systems” published by McGraw-Hill, it’s obvious the term has nothing to do with anything but estimating, rough measurements, and approximations.

And in the 1969 book “Scientific or Rule-of-thumb Techniqiues of Ground-water Management” by Charles Lee McGuinness, the repeated use of the word rule-of-thumb as a measurement is obvious as the writer speaks of rule-of-thumb decisions and rule-of-thumb judgements and rule-of-thumb evaluations.

Even the 1921 book “Forest Mensuration” by Herman Haupt Chapman states on page 251:

A rule of thumb represents an attempt to formulate a simple rule which can be memorized and by the use of which the contents of trees of any diameter and height may be found.

Mr. Chapman goes on to state that the rules of thumb must be based on either the cubic or board-foot unit, and he provides examples of where to use these different rules and the reasons for doing so. What is interesting is that he also states this:

Both of these rules of thumb are good only for trees of a given height and form factor. They are similar to the European rule of thumb — volume in cube meters equals the diameter squared divided by 1,000.

Further on, he writes:

A more scientific application of a universal rule of thumb is that devised by F.R. Mason (Ref. Rules of Thumb for Volume Determination, Forestry Quarterly, Vol. XIII, 1915, p. 333).

What Idiomation did uncover is that in German there is a similar phrase with regards to the rough approximation which is pi mal daumen which means pi multiplied by the thumb (pi being, of course, 3.14).

It is highly unlike that the German expression referred to making rough measurements while the English expression referred to wife beating. But stranger things have been uncovered while researching idioms, and so Idiomation continued the search.

In the 17 October 1857 edition of Notes and Queries, Thomas Boys wrote about the idiom and how it was also known as the Rule-o-er-thoum and rule o’ the thumb. He mentioned the use of the idiom as meaning an approximation back in 1814 as used in Bordeaux (France). The author also referred to an earlier discussion in Notes and Queries, and indeed, one was found in the 22 August 1857 edition wherein a Mr. H. Draper of Dublin (Ireland) wrote in part:

The origin of this phrase, as applied to anything made or compounded without a precise formula, is to be found in Yorkshire.

In Yorkshire (England)? Was this claim true? In Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal of 1841 on page 172, the following is found in an essay about the rule of thumb.

A more commendable employment of this member in past time was that which gave origin to the phrase, “Rule of thumb.” It was once a common enough practice in Scotland to measure objects in a rough way by calculating a thumb’s-breadth as an inch. Of course, no great accuracy could attend this sort of mensuration, and our more precise times apply the phrase jestingly to every case of rude or careless computation.

John Mactaggart has something to say about the rule of thumb in his 1824 tome, “The Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia or The Original, Antiquated, and Natural Curiosities of the South Scotland.”

Rule O’Thumm – Rule of Thumb, the king of all rules. The rule of three, and Pythagorus’s golden rule are nothing to this; it is that rule whereby a person does something which no other can. The Burns wrote Tam O’Shanter by the rule o’thumm; this is the rule of genius, or the rule of nature, which surpasses all the rules of art; every soul knows less or more of this rule, and yet no two know exactly the same.

Even John Jamieson’s “Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language” published in 1825 confirms that Rule of Thumm means to do work nearly in the way of guess-work, or at hap-hazard at the very least.

No wife beating references other than the feminist references of the mid-1970s had been found as Idiomation continued going back in time. Perhaps we would find the wife beating reference in earlier references.

In the Francis Grose (11 June 1731 – 12 June 1791) book, “A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” published in 1785, he explained that rule of thumb was something “cone by dint of practice and referred to is as a way to kiss one’s thumb instead of the book.”

We found “A Voyage to the Coast of Africa in 1758 Containing a Succinct Account of the Expedition to, and the Taking of the Island of Goree” by the Reverend John Lindsay  (1686 – 1768), Chaplain of his Majesty’s Ship Fougueux published in Volume 8 of “The Critical Review or Annals of Literature” and dated 1759. The story spoke of the bungling manner in which the charts of a particular well-known port had been laid down. At one point the author wrote:

We should be glad, however to learn how a man is to be landed on the banks of eternity, which is metaphorically an ocean without bounds. Nor are we less curious to be acquainted with the ancient rule of thumb, by which it seems, the charts of Cork harbour have nitherto been finished, though in a bumbling manner.

Surely if any wife beating was involved, the Reverend would have made mention of it, but alas, he did not. Instead he wrote about the confusing manner in which Cork’s harbor had been mapped out. If you can’t trust a Reverend, who can you trust?

In 1692, Sir William Hope, First Baronet of Balcomie (15 April 1660 – 1 February 1724) published the second edition of a book he wrote titled, “The Compleat Fencing-Master in Which is Fully Described the Whole Guards, Parades, and Lessons Belonging to the Small-Sword.” It also included the rules for playing against either artists or others, with blunts as well as with sharps, and as a bonus added feature, there was a section with directions on how to behave in a single combat on horseback.

I know very well that those who understand this Art will be of my opinion, because they know that the Judging of Distance exactly is one of the hardest things to be acquired in all the Art of the small-Sword; and when once it is acquired it is one of the usefulest things, and a Man’s Art as much as a lesson in it, but I am no Man’s retiring too much, unless upon a very good Design, and that hardly any Ignorant of this Art can have, because he doth (as the common Prover is) he doth by rule of Thumb, and not by Art.

And by the fact that the idiom is a common Proverb, that means the roots of this idiom are not found in English common law at all.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: The second edition of this book was a re-issue of his 1687 book which was originally titled, “The Scots Fencing-Master.” It was also the first book on this topic to be published in Britain.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1.1: He was the younger brother of the First Earl of Hopetoun. He was made a Baronet in March 1698, first of Grantoun, then of Kirkliston, and in 1705, of Balcomie in Fifeshire. Because of his service in the army, he was also made the Deputy-Governor of the castle of Edinburgh.

The earliest known use of it in print appears in a sermon given by the English puritan James Durham  (1622 – 25 June 1658) and printed in “Heaven Upon Earth” in 1658:

Many professed Christians are like to foolish builders, who build by guess, and by rule of thumb and not by Square and Rule.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In 1640, a book titled, “Witt’s Recreations – Augmented with Ingenious Conceites for the Wittie and Merrie Medicines for the Melancholic” contained this rhyme spoke of a rule of leg or a rule of foot, but not a rule of thumb.

If Hercules tall stature might be guess’d
But by his thumb, the index of the rest,
In due proportion, the best rule that I
Would chuse, to measure Venus beauty by,
Should be her leg and foot.

But the idiom rule of thumb can still be traced back a little further especially in light of the fact that Sir William Hope referred to it as a common Proverb back in 1687.

In the 15th century (which takes us to the 1400s) there was a law in place in Scotland that referred to a unit of measure using the Latin word pollex which means thumb. It was particularly important when creating statues of monarchs such as Robert III of Scotland (1390 – 1406) The law read thusly:

Thumbs are to be measured by the thumbs of three men, namely one large, one medium, and one small, and should stand in accordance with the medium thumb, or in accordance with the length of three grains of barley without tails.

That’s a pretty specific description albeit still not a specific definition of what consitutes a thumb as a unit of measure. Later, Randle Cotgrave wrote in his French-English Dictionary of 1611 that an inch measure was the breadth of a thumb.

To this end, the rule of thumb concept was around in the early 1400s, and it was an accepted general measure at that point in time. It also appears to have originated in Scotland hence the reference to this idiom being a Scottish proverb.

Idiomation therefore pegs this idiom to some time in the early 1400s and reminds people that the idiom has nothing to do with beating your spouse with a switch or rod that is no thicker than the beater’s thumb.

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Hair of the Dog

Posted by Admin on September 11, 2021

You may have heard someone say the morning after a night of heavy drinking that they need some hair of the dog to help them deal with their hangover and other physical symptoms of having overindulged in alcohol. They usually mean they need another shot of alcohol to help them cope with the symptoms of having a hangover. It doesn’t work, and yet, it’s been a long-touted remedy. How long?

On 18 March 2006, Robert Riley’s “On The Street” column in the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper asked people how they took care of a hangover. The first answer was from Tyler Hehn, a Junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lincoln (NB) who responded: “I’ve got to go with the hair of the dog that bit you, but a little Gatorade or water to rehydrate never hurt.”

It’s a phrase many have heard for years, and even Ann Landers used the expression in her column of 9 September 1983 that was carried by the Southeast Missourian where a reader congratulated Ann Landers on her list of the characteristics of a compulsive gambler. The writer shared his or her list entitled, “Alcoholic: How Can You Tell?”

The third question on the list was: In the morning, do you crave a “hair of the dog that bit you?”

Perhaps one of the most descriptive commentaries using the idiom is from the Wilmington (DE) Sunday Morning Star of 27 September 1936 in the “Local Color: The Week’s Odds and Ends” by Charles M. Hackett (1909 – 29 September 1970).

One of the better-known grog shops was having trouble this week. It was just beginning to blossom with the lads and lassies trying the hair of the dog for excessive hangover trouble when, outside, a pneumatic concrete breaker went into action. The anguished faces inside told the story of heads rent with clatter.

A few decades earlier, in The Pittsburgh Gazette of 11 April 1902 shared a quick commentary between news of the availability of lecture tickets in support of the Stone ransom fund and what the newspaper reported as a ‘pernicious pest’ who was setting off false alarms. It read as follows:

The governors of the Carolinas were together at Charleston Wednesday in honor of the president but the recording angels of the daily papers are silent as to whether any hair of the dog was in demand yesterday.

The complete idiom is actually the hair of the dog will cure the bite, but over time, it has been whittled down to just the first half of that claim with the second half implied. The expression comes from the ancient notion that the hair of a dog is an antidote to its bite.

As the saying went, similia similibus curantur, or like is cured by like. In many respects, it seems to be the theory that drives homeopathy.

On page 92 of Volume 15 of The New Sporting Magazine published in 1838, the magazine identified this idiom as a proverb.

The proverb “Take a hair of the dog that bit you” recommending a morning draught to cure an evening’s debauch, is derived from the prescription which recommended as a cure for the bit of a dog, that some of his hairs should be bound over the wound.

That same year, in the book “Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland” compiled by Irish author and antiquary Thomas Crofton Croker (15 January 1798 – 8 August 1854), one of the stories recounted how two men who had overindulged in poteen awoke the next morning with hangovers.

Back they both went most lovingly to the house, and Jack wakened up Coomara; and perceiving the old fellow to be rather dull, he bid him not be cast down, for ’twas many a good man’s case; said it all came of his not being used to the poteen, and recommended him, by way of cure, to swallow a hair of the dog that bit him.

The second edition was printed in 1838 and in the publisher’s preface to the new edition, it was stated that the book had been out of print for a number of years. Research indicates the first part was published in 1825, and the next two parts were published in 1828.

Two centuries earlier, Randle Cotgrave (unknown – 1634) mentioned the hair of the dog as a cure for hangovers in his book “A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues” published in 1611.

In drunkennes to fall a quaffing, thereby to recouer health, or sobrietie; neere vnto which sence our Ale-knights often vse this phrase, and say, Giue vs a haire of the dog that last bit vs.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Randle Cotgrave was possibly the son of William Cotgreve of Christleton in Cheshire. It is certain that Randle Cotgrave belong to Cheshire, and that he was a scholar at St. John’s College in Cambridge on the Lady Margaret foundation on 10 November 1587. Later, he became secretary to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, eldest son of Thomas Cecil, First Earl of Exeter. Subsequently, he became the registrar to the Bishop of Chester. He married Ellinor Taylor of Chester, and had four sons: William, Randolf, Robert, and Alexander. He also had a daughter named Mary.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: A copy of Randle Cotgrave’s book was presented to Prince Henry, eldest son of James 1, and in return, Randle Cotgrave received from Prince Henry ten pounds as a gift, not as payment. This Randle Cotgrave’s death was given in Cooper’s “Memorials of Cambridge” as 1634.

John Heywood included the phrase in a drinking reference in his book, “A Dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Proverbes in the Englishe Tongue” published in 1546.

I praie the leat me and my felowe haue
A heare of the dog that bote vs last nyght.
And bytten were we both to the brayne aryght.
We sawe eche other drunke in the good ale glas.

A more recognizable translation is this:

I pray thee let me and my fellow have
hair of the dog that bit us last night
And bitten were we both drunk.
We saw each other drunk in the good ale glass.

Yes, back in John Heywood’s day, if you were bitten to the brain, it was another way of saying you were drunk.

At the end of the day, since the idiom was known and used in 1546, it’s safe to say it was a common expression of the day, and while the first published reference Idiomation could find for this idiom is 1546, it was already a well-known expression among those looking to get over a hangover.

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Hair Of The Dog

Posted by Admin on October 23, 2014

For decades, it was said that the hair of the dog was the surefire cure for hangovers cause by drinking too much alcohol the night before.  In time, the expression came to mean any alleged cure-all whether it related to overindulgence in alcohol or addressing the most serious of business difficulties.   The full expression is actually the hair of the dog that bit you, and while it’s doubtful that a dog bite will cure your hangover, the idiom itself has an interesting past not only in literature, but in folklore as well.

In the February 19, 2009 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henniger’s views on the stimulus package that Barack Obama signed into law.  Among many aspects of the stimulus package, was the Making Work Pay tax credit that phased out for individuals earning $75,000 or more and couples earning $150,000 or more jointly.  Journalists referred to is as the hair of the dog strategy, and in fact, this specific article was titled, “Obama’s Hair Of The Dog Stimulus:  The President’s Spending Plan Asks Us To Go Against Instinct.”

In the book, “Bent’s Fort” by David Sievert Lavender, published in 1954.  The story was about Charles and William Bent, who established Bent’s Fort, and the trappers, traders, and mountain men that were part of the old Santa Fe trail.   The idiom is used in this passage.

Perhaps there was a post-wedding fandango on Saturday, May 2, or it may have been only a gentlemen’s gathering that cause Frank Blair to wake up Sunday morning feeling in need of the hair of the dog that had bitten him.  One eye-opener called for another.  Soon he was so tanked that George had to help him navigate toward home.  AS they crossed the plaza, they passed a crowd of loafers, some thirty or so, congregated about Steve Lee’s store.

It’s in the October 2, 1852 edition of “Notes and Queries: A Medium of Inter-Communication for Literary Men, Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists, Etc.” where a short definition for hair of the dog is found that reads as follows:

The hair of the dog now means the “wee sup o’whiskey” which is taken as a cure, by one who has been a victim of “dog’s nose.”

Of course, back in 1774, an author identified simply as Fidelio wrote and published “The Fashionable Daughter, Being A Narrative of True and Recent Facts By An Impartial Hand.”  In this book, the author spoke of the hair of the dog thusly.

This affair mortified his pride and emptied his purse not a little, though the universal opinion was that it doubled his cunning, while it increased hot his honesty.  As the suit had cost him money, he followed the old Caledonian proverb; and applied for a remedy to the decrease of his substance, which he ever reckoned the greatest evil, “a hair of the dog that bit him.”

Based on this passage, the idiom was considered an old Caledonian (meaning Gaelic) proverb.  However, a French and English dictionary composer by Randle Cotgrave and published in 1673 had not only the idiom but a definition included.

To take a remedy for a mischief from that which was the cause thereof; as to go thin clothes when a cold is taken; or in drunkeness to fill a quaffing, thereby to recover health; or sobriety, near that which sense our Ale-knights often use this phrase and say, give us hair of the dog that last bit me.

In Samuel Pepys diary, on April 3, 1661, he also spoke of the hair of the dog that bit him, describing his overindulgence in alcoholic beverages the night before.

Up among my workmen, my head akeing all day from last night’s debauch. To the office all the morning, and at noon dined with Sir W. Batten and Pen, who would needs have me drink two drafts of sack to-day to cure me of last night’s disease, which I thought strange but I think find it true.

Nearly 100 years prior to that entry, John Heywood spoke of the idiom in the 1562 edition of his book, “The Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies of John Heywood.”

A pick-me-up after a debauch:  apparently a memory of the superstition, which was and still is common, that, being bitten by a dog, one cannot do better than pluch a handful of hair from him, and lay it on the wound.  Old receipt books advise that an inebriate should drink sparkingly in the morning some of the same liquor which he had drunk to excess overnight.

In fact, in the 1546 edition of “A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue” by John Heywood, the following ditty is included.

I pray thee let me and my fellow have
A hair of the dog that bit us last night
And bitten were we both to the brain aright.
We saw each other drunk in the good ale glass.

As amusing as all that is, the fact of the matter is that the idiom has its roots in the Roman saying, similia similibus curantur which translates to mean like things cure like.  In other words, they believed the best antidote for whatever ailed you, was to have more of the same.

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