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Rule of Thumb

刊登日期: 2016.05.07
作者: Grace Tse  

What are our fingers called? Each of them has a specific name. The first digit of our hand is the thumb, followed by the index finger (or pointer finger, forefinger), middle finger (or long finger), ring finger, and little finger (or baby finger, small finger, pinky). In the English language, the word “thumb” is used to form a lot of idioms. One of them is “rule of thumb”.

A rule of thumb for happiness in life is to maintain an optimistic attitude.

Rather than a strictly accurate rule or principle, a “rule of thumb” is a rough and general guideline which is based on experience or common knowledge. In the above example, experience, not any scientific theory, tells us that an optimistic attitude leads to a happy life.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the idiom first appeared in print in a sermon given by the English Puritan (清教徒), James Durham, in 1685.

Many… Christians are like to foolish builders, who build by guess, and by rule of thumb.

The origin of the idiom is unknown. It is believed that it might come from a means of approximate measurement with one’s thumb in ancient times. In the history of measurement, the length of the first joint of an adult thumb was about an inch.
Throughout history, the thumb was very useful in measuring things before tools were invented. In agriculture, farmers used their thumbs to measure the depth at which they could plant a seed. In brewing, workers used their thumbs to measure the temperature of beer. In carpentry, carpenters used their thumbs to find the notch in a wooden board.
In modern English usage, this idiom can be hyphenated to become an adjective.
The carpenter made a quick, rule-of-thumb(憑經驗)measurement of the size of the cupboard.

We may also add an adjective before the idiom.

As a useful rule of thumb(經驗法則), children need about ten hours’ sleep at night.

There are a lot of valuable rules of thumb which help us to live a happy life. Can you think of some?


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