[Ads-l] Another early "rule of thumb" (1680)

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Fri Dec 15 14:06:07 EST 2017

Well, this is odd and a little embarrassing. I could've sworn that I long
ago sent to the list a 1685 sighting of "rule of thumb" (at the time an
antedating), though I'm unable to find it anywhere in the archives. I don't
think I imagined it, but, hmm.

In any event, although the publication date for James Durham's use of "rule
of thumb" was 1685, Durham died in 1658, so his collected sermons appeared
posthumously. (The OED's entry reflects his death date and the publication

For what it's worth, then, here's a "rule of thumb" that appeared before

"For first, That must be the Rule of Faith and Manners by which every
matter of Faith and Manners ought to be examin'd seeing every thing that is
examined must be examined by its Rule, or else it will be done by Guess and
Rule of Thumb, as the Jest is."

[From John Alexander, Jesuitico-Quakerism examined, or, A confutation of
the blasphemous and unreasonable principles of the Quakers with a
vindication of the Church of God in Britain, from their malicious clamours,
and slanderous aspersions. London: Printed for Dorman Neuman, 1680. From
Section I. Proving the Scriptures to be the Infallible Rule. (Via EEBO.)]

Like Durham, Alexander (1638-1716) was a preacher.  It bears pointing out
that his use of "done by Guess and Rule of Thumb" is reminiscent of
Durham's (presumably) earlier "Many profest Christians are like to foolish
builders, who build by guess, and by rule of thumb."

-- Bonnie

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list