1997 marked the sesquicentenary of the publication by Carl Bergmann of the observation that, in general, large-bodied animal species tend to live further north than their small-bodied relatives. This has been dubbed Bergmann's rule in his honour. However, more than 150 years on, we appear to be little closer to a general understanding of the rule, or even to any consensus as to whether it exists. This is due in large part to confusion about the taxonomic level at which the rule is considered to operate, and to the conflation of pattern and mechanism. In this paper, we attempt to resolve this confusion by highlighting its sources, and by providing a definition of Bergmann's rule that is practical and useful, yet that retains the essential features of its original formulation. We conclude by briefly reviewing the mechanisms proposed to explain Bergmann's rule as we define it.