"A few strong instincts and a few plain rules suffice us*”

Have you ever noticed that there are rules and then there are 'rules of thumb'.
A rule is a stricture, something you conform to that confirms the order of things.

Rules have exceptions. Like 'i' before 'e'…except after 'c'.
The great advertising man Bill Bernbach said 'Rules are prisons'. The great advertising man David Ogilvy had more rules than you could shake a stick at - or thumb your nose at.

They say that the road rules in Italy are to be regarded as suggestions. I've never driven in Italy so, I wouldn't know. In France I'd suggest that would be the general rule too.

But I am interested in this 'rule of thumb' business. what is that? A hitchhikers guide?

Things are beginning to get a little weird. I have just looked up the etymology of the phrase 'rule of thumb' and I am not sure I like the answer. A case is made that suggests the rule of thumb refers to the width of a stick with which a husband might reasonably beat his wife. A lively debate on the subject is here, though I hardly think it is something that needs to be debated.

An alternate thought is that carpenters would use the measure of their thumbs as a ruler which would seem to be more palatable as a general rule.

Perhaps the use of the thumb in construction is in tune with the idea of Fibonnacci sequences (a sequence of numbers where each number is the sum of the preceding two). Le Corbusier, the architect and designer used Fibonacci sequences based on measurements and ratios in the human form to develop the modulor which was a set of ideal measurements to help designers achieve practicality and harmony in their designs. A precursor to ergonomics, perhaps.

"The house is a machine for living in." Le Corbusier (Vers une architecture, 1923)

*RW Emerson


  1. Anonymous10:50 pm

    I definately agree that the French definately have "suggestions" for driving, opposed to absolute rule. The three weeks I was there showed me that speed is relative, and so are many other traffic rules. Good post.


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