Rules of Thumb website

Tom Parker, a MAKE columnist and author of the classic reference for making quick guesses on anything, Rules of Thumb, has launched a Rules of Thumb website.
200801081316 is officially up and running! The site is fully searchable with the backend machinery to let users rate new contributions IN or OUT of the main db providing a Darwinian weeding mechanism which will let the content improve in value over time. The site tracks your success as a rater and/or contributor and has the basic tagging features which will allow users to discover emergent categories (ala David Weinberger in Everything is Miscellaneous...) I'll be experimenting with variations of tag clouds once I establish a reasonable base of users.



  1. It seems interesting. I’d like to partake, just to see what kind of rules emerge. Rules of thumb should tap into core experiences, I would think. How does giving someone a good rating end up rating me? Woofie for your rules?

  2. No no, only the earliest citation comes, by chance, from a fencing book. The idiom is in no way fencing-related.

    I wondered how quickly this site would spur an etymological debate! :)

  3. Perusing the links, there is no debate. The facts are:

    1) There are in fact legal citations indicating that a husband might at one time have been permitted to beat his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb.

    2) This fact has nothing to do with the phrase “rule of thumb”, and no citation from the legal literature has ever been brought forward that refers to the fact 1) above as a “rule of thumb”.

    3) Anyone who has worked in carpentry has used their thumb as a (rough) measure at one time or another. This is a plausible but unproven alternative etymology, so we can’t just accept the legal story by default due to lack of plausible alternatives.

    The weird thing is that people think affirming or denying the existence of a legal standard allowing a husband to beat his wife is by itself sufficient to justify their beliefs about the etymology of “rule of thumb”, whereas what matters is whether or not anyone can find a reference to such a legal standard being called a “rule of thumb.” Thus far, they cannot.

  4. This is great news. I have loved the book and its illustrations since I was a kid. I’m curious of the weeding really will improve value as opposed to “interestingness” which may be a different metric.

  5. Super site. Just super. I was Tom Parker’s editor for his three books of Rules of Thumb back in the 80s and I’m glad to see they made it to the web and, I hope, will thrive there.

    For the record, there were indeed three books:
    Rules of Thumb
    Rules of Thumb II
    Never Trust a Calm Dog

    All super titles that are worth the money if you can hunt them down and find them today.

  6. The only reason why I wanted to comment on this was the folk-etymology of the term, but I guess that another reader of straight dope’s got it covered :).

  7. Really enjoyed this in print when I discovered it in the early 90’s. This looks fun!

  8. Really enjoyed this in print when I discovered it in the early 90’s. This looks fun!

  9. Very neat idea for a site, although I do wish there were a way to read what you want (from the ‘Main Rules Collecion’) in a single-column format rather than having it share the screen with that other ‘New Rules Pending’ column. The rules are brief enough that it doesn’t get -too- annoying or require too much scrolling, but it still looks a little more cluttered than is really necessary, to me.

    Regardless, though, it’s a cool site and my day has just been made by discovering the following tidbit of information: “There are approximately 250 mice to the gallon.”

    If THAT won’t come in handy I don’t know what will!

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