Gary Smyth
>D.B. is correct. A lesbian rule is a tool (most) often used by masons. It is a cross between a modern contour gage and a string. It was a reusable flexible metal strip usually made of lead and came in three versions—one with a scale on it; one measure using two marks, one on either end; and a third with no marks, but could be marked by the user. It was used to measure around corners and molding to the extent that the lead could be formed.

For two days now I could not find a picture anywhere. If any of you have access to a photo example I request that you post it directly or identify a web page.

The etymology of the words are obscure with the Greek island of Lesbos (now Lesvos) being the source as the place from where the tool came. Before or perhaps during the current lesbian sexual connotation, about the early sixth century B.C., Lesbos was a huge international center of prosperity and culture in the Mediterranean. The island was a home to many of the brightest minds of the time. As such it had wealth and those that could afford nice things. The root word “bian” is of Greek derivation and seems to have a (internet) origin that among other things can roughly be translated as floor covering. I do not have the full unabridged Oxford English Dictionary to check it out but if any of you do it would be helpful if that could be confirmed..

The tool seems to have developed use on Lesbos and then adopted elsewhere. The earliest dated written reference to the word I found (internet again) was identified dating from 1601. So the name and tool carried through at least until then. In modern times the name fell out of favor as no manly male wanted female sexual innuendo in a virile toolbox—hence contour gage. Now with PC, well, forget it.

Web search: Note: Lesbian "homosexual female" is first seen in 1890 as an adjective, in a medical dictionary. It was first used as a noun in 1925. However, the word lesbianism is first recorded in 1870 in an Englishman's diary. The name "Lesbian rule" survived over 7000 years, only to be driven out of favor by prudish English speaking persons in the last hundred or so. Oddly, the name "Lesbian Rule" has been taken up by the gay community to be used to describe someone who is flexible in their beliefs--someone with "pliant morality or judgement".

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