Why Do We Say That?

There are lots of sayings that have worked their way into our everyday conversation. "Rule of thumb." "Get his goat." "Make your nut." Where do they come from? Read on to find out.

Rule of Thumb
The story behind this phrase is somewhat uncertain. Supposedly in the older days of England, it was at one time legal to beat your wife. However, to keep things from getting entirely out of hand, the instrument used to infict the punishment could not be thicker than your thumb. Thus, anything smaller passed the rule of thumb and could legally be used for this purpose. However, there is some dispute as no law can be found that was ever officially on the books to support this story.

Today this phrase is often used when discussing a baseline measurement, as in:

You should not try to handhold your camera unless you are shooting with an exposure of at least 1 / lens focal length. This is a good rule of thumb.

Get his goat
Thoroughbred horses used for racing are often very high strung. As a result, they do not travel well. After experimentation, it was found that if there was something constant from place to place the horse would stay calm, and therefore perform better in a race. What worked best? A goat.

So if you wanted to try to ensure that a particular horse did not race at his best, what would you do? Steal his goat!

Today this phrase is still used to imply that something (or someone) has made you angry and upset.

Make your nut
Back to old England again for the origination of this phrase. There were gypsy circuses that would travel the country, entertaining and probably stealing from the townspeople. Before the city fathers would allow them to set up camp, they would come to an arrangement as to how much the circus would pay the city for the privilege of setting up. Once this amount was agreed upon, the city fathers would take the large nut that secured one of the wagon wheels on the biggest circus wagon.

Until the circus was able to pay the amount, they would not get their nut back, and therefore would not be able to leave town. This was how the city fathers ensured that they got what was agreed to, rather than seeing the circus skip town in the middle of the night.

Today this phrase is used when discussing whether or not there is enough cash coming in to pay your bills. As in:

Due to unexpected expenses this month, it will be difficult to make our nut.

Back to Top

Site Map 

Moments of Light
© Moments of Light Logo Privacy Policy / Legal Information Need more information? Please contact us.