Most of these measurements were taken from "How Many? A Dictionary of Units of Measurement" on website http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/index.html
These are units that might make sense to fantasy gamers. It explains the huge variation in units of measurements that we all take for granted in our current age of standardization. Also, by learning some of the sources of theses words, you can be inspired to add bits of chrome to your own setting.
Don’t try to read this in one shot. Please. Just kind of skim over it.
a: an international symbol for year, taken from the Latin word annus. Although English-speaking countries continue to use the traditional symbol yr for most purposes, scientists use the a symbol in papers and textbooks. The symbol is often seen in combinations such as Ma (million years) or Ga (billion years).
acre (ac or A) : a unit of area used for measuring real estate in English-speaking countries. "Acre," an Old English word meaning a field, is derived from the Latin ager and Greek agros, also meaning a field. The acre was originally defined as the area that could be plowed in a day by a yoke of oxen. It was in use in England at least as early as the eighth century, and by the end of the ninth century it was generally understood to be the area of a field one furlong (40 rods or 10 chains) long by 4 rods (or 1 chain) wide. Thus an acre is 10 square chains, 160 square rods, 43 560 square feet or 4840 square yards. There are exactly 640 acres in a square mile. In metric countries the unit corresponding to the acre is the hectare, which is 10,000 square meters (the area of a square 100 meters on each side). One acre is equal to 0.404 687 3 hectare. Among traditional European land area units, the acre is typical in being defined as a day’s work but unusual in not being visualized as the area of a square. Similar units include the French journal, north German and Dutch morgen, south German and Swiss juchart, Austrian joch, and Czech jitro.
AH : abbreviation for the Latin anno hegirae, traditionally used in the West to designate years of the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar is lunar, counting twelve lunar months to the year (see month ). Thus its years are shorter than ordinary solar years. Years are counted from the day of the Hijri (Hegira in Latin), the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina, which is fixed at 16 July 622 AD in the Julian calendar. The Islamic year AH 1426 began at sunset of 10 February 2005 in the current (Gregorian) calendar. See Islamic calendar information from IslamicFinder.org.
ale gallon : This was the size of one small Keg of Ale It is a traditional unit of liquid volume in Britain and the U.S., the ale gallon was equal to 282 cubic inches (4.6212 liters) or about 1.2208 U.S.liquid gallon (1.0165 British imperial gallon). Standardized in the sixteenth century under Queen Elizabeth I, the ale gallon remained in use well into the nineteenth century but is obsolete today.
amber: an old English unit of volume, used for both liquids and dry goods. The amber was equal to about 4 bushels or roughly 140 liters.
amphora: a historic unit of volume. An amphora is the volume of an urn or jar of the same name. These urns were tall, with handles near the top on both sides (the word amphora comes from two Greek words meaning "on both sides" and "carry"). Amphoras were the containers of choice for shipping wine and many other commodities in the ancient world. Archaeologists report that the Greek amphora held about 38.8 liters (10.25 U.S. liquid gallons, or 8.54 British imperial gallons). The Roman amphora was smaller, about 25.5 liters (6.74 U.S. gallons or 5.61 British imperial gallons).
animal unit (AU): a unit of feed consumption used in U.S. dairying and ranching. One animal unit is the feed or grazing requirement of a mature cow weighing 1000 pounds (453.59 kilograms) : 26 lb. (11.8 kg) of dry matter forage per day. Total feed requirements are often figured by the animal unit month (AUM), the feed required to sustain one animal unit of livestock for one month. (figure 1/2 a cow per acre, if the cows are moved about on the property and a moderate feed level)
arm’s-length : in English the term "arm’s-length" is used figuratively to mean "a distance discouraging familiarity or conflict." In many cultures, however, the length of a human arm is standardized as a unit of distance equal to about 70 centimeters or 28 inches. Examples include the Italian braccio, the Russian sadzhen, and the Turkish pik.
arshin: a traditional Russian unit of distance. Peter the Great standardized the arshin at exactly 28 English inches, or 71.12 centimeters, early in the 1700s. The arshin was also used in several other countries adjacent to Russia. The arshin is also used as a unit of area equal to one square arshin; this would be equal to 5.4445 square feet or 0.5058 square meter.
Astronomical Unit (AU): Mean distance of Earth to Sun, or 92,900,000 miles; employed as a unit for indicating intra-solar system distances. 70% to 130% of this mean distance is considered "The Life Band"
avoirdupois weights: the common traditional system of weights in all the English-speaking countries. Until quite recently, almost all weights were stated in avoirdupois units, with only precious metals and pharmaceuticals being measured by troy weights. The name of the system comes from the Old French phrase avoir du pois or aveir de pois, "goods of weight," indicating simply that the goods were being sold by weight rather than by volume or by the piece. The system is based on the avoirdupois pound of 7000 grains. The pound is divided into 16 ounces , each divided further into 16 drams . The avoirdupois system was introduced in England around 1300, replacing an older commercial system based on a "mercantile pound" (libra mercatoria) of 7200 grains divided into exactly 15 troy ounces . Scholars believe the avoirdupois pound was invented by wool merchants and modeled on a pound of 16 ounces used in Florence, Italy, which was an important buyer of English wool at the time. The avoirdupois weights quickly became the standard weights of trade and commerce. They continue to be used for most items of retail trade in the United States, and they remain in some use in Britain despite the introduction of metric units there.
bag: an old English unit of weight, varying with the contents of the bag but generally in the range of 2-4 hundredweight (100-200 kilograms).
bale (bl): a bundle of merchandise, usually pressed and bound in some way. The word "bale" has been used in many ways to describe standard packages of various commodities. For example, a bale of paper is traditionally equal to 10 reams. In agriculture, a bale of hay is generally a huge round bundle left in the field until needed; these bales can weigh up to 1500 pounds (700 kilograms). In U.S. garden shops, a bale of straw is typically 3 cubic feet (0.085 cubic meter).
barge: an informal unit of volume used in the U.S. energy industry. The barges used on American rivers customarily carry about 25 000 barrels of oil (see barrel below). This is equivalent to 1.05 million gallons, roughly 1400 register tons, or about 3975 cubic meters.
barleycorn: an old English unit of length equal to 1/3 inch or about 8.5 millimeters. The custom of using seeds as units of length or weight is very common in farming societies. In Anglo-Saxon England, where barley was a basic crop, barleycorns played this traditional role. The weight of a barleycorn, later renamed the grain, is the original basis of all English weight systems including the older troy system and the later avoirdupois system. As a length unit, 3 barleycorns were equal to the Saxon ynce (inch). The English foot was actually defined as 12 of these ynces, that is, as 36 barleycorns.
barn (b) : a slightly humorous unit of area used in nuclear physics. When atoms are bombarded with smaller particles such as electrons, the electrons are scattered as if the nucleus of the atom was a tiny solid object. The barn is used to express the apparent cross-sectional area of this scattering object. One barn is equal to 10-28 square meters. Using this unit, physicists can say that such and such a nucleus is "as big as a barn," or 10 barns, or whatever. The proper SI unit to use for these measurements is the square femtometer (fm2); one barn equals 100 fm2.
I could see magicians using a similar measure for distribution of magical effects
barrel (bbl or brl or bl) : a commercial unit of volume used to measure liquids such as beer and wine. The official U. S. definition of the barrel is 31.5 gallons, which is about 4.211 cubic feet or 119.24 liters. This unit is the same as the traditional British wine barrel. In Britain the barrel is now defined to be 36 imperial gallons, which is substantially larger: about 5.780 cubic feet or 163.66 liters. This unit is slightly smaller than the traditional British beer and ale barrel, which held 5.875 cubic feet or 166.36 liters. There are other official barrels, defined in certain U.S. states; most of them fall in the general range of 30-40 gallons. A barrel of beer in the U.S., for example, is usually 31 U.S. gallons (117.35 liters). The origin of the standard symbol bbl is not clear. The "b" may have been doubled originally to indicate the plural (1 bl, 2 bbl), or possibly it was doubled to eliminate any confusion with bl as a symbol for the bale (see above).
barrel (bbl or bo) :a commercial unit of volume used to measure petroleum. By international agreement a barrel of petroleum equals 42 U. S. gallons, which is about 158.987 liters. The symbol bo (barrel of oil) is used for this unit in the petroleum industry. The petroleum barrel originated in the Pennsylvania oilfields (the first commercial oilfields) in the late nineteenth century. Apparently, 40-gallon barrels were increased to 42 gallons to provide insurance aganst any spillage or underfilling. By coincidence (it seems), this unit is the same size as the traditional tierce, a wine barrel.
barrel (bbl or brl or bl) :a commercial unit of volume used to measure dry commodities such as apples. The U. S. dry barrel, established by Congress in 1912, is 105 dry quarts, which is about 4.083 cubic feet or 115.63 liters. (This is the only case in the United States customary system where a dry volume is less than the corresponding fluid volume.) For certain commodities, other sizes are traditional in the U.S.; for example, a barrel of sugar was traditionally 5 cubic feet (about 141.58 liters). In Newfoundland, a barrel of herring held 32 Imperial gallons (145.47 liters) but a barrel of sand was only 18 Imperial gallons (81.83 liters).
barrel (bbl) :a commercial unit of weight, varying with the commodity being measured. In the U.S., for example, a barrel of flour traditionally holds 196 pounds (88.90 kg) and a barrel of beef, fish, or pork 200 pounds (90.72 kg). A barrel of cement is traditionally equal to 4 bags, which is 376 pounds (170.55 kg) in the U.S. and 350 pounds (158.76 kg) in Canada. In old England, a barrel of herrings was 32 pounds (14.51 kg) and a barrel of soap was 256 pounds (116.12 kg).
baud (Bd): a unit used in engineering for measuring the rate of data transmission over telegraph or telephone lines. The baud rate is the number of times per second the signal carrying the communication varies in strength or frequency. In the days of the telegraph, the signal increased at the start of a pulse and decreased at the end, so the baud rate was 2 times the number of dots that could be transmitted per second. In recent years, when the baud has been used to represent digital data transmission, the definition has varied according to the technique used. If the signal has only two states (on or off) then the baud rate is the same as the transmission rate in bits per second. Since this was the case in early (slow) modems, in common language the baud is often used to mean the same thing as 1 bit per second. However, faster modems use signals having 4 possible states (corresponding to 2 bits per second) or 16 possible states (corresponding to 4 bits per second). For those of us who are not communications engineers, the best way to represent data transmission rates is directly in bits per second (b/s or bps), avoiding the use of the baud altogether. The baud is named for the French telegraph engineer J. M. E. Baudot (1845-1903), the inventor of the first teleprinter.
billet : a single stick of firewood. Traditional English billets had a length of 40 inches (1.016 meters).
block : a "unit" used in describing the distance between two locations in a city by the number of intersections encountered between those locations; in this usage "12 blocks" means the traveler will cross 12 street intersections before reaching the destination. In the US, a block is the average distance between street intersections in the rectangular street grids common in most American cities. The length of a block varies from about 1/20 mile (80 meters) in New York to about 1/16 mile (100 meters) in many midwestern cities to about 1/10 mile (160 meters) in cities of the South and West. (In New York and some other cities, streets running on one direction are closer together than streets running perpendicular. In these cities, people often speak of "short blocks" or "long blocks.")
It is also an informal unit of area equal to one square block. A typical block has an area of roughly 2-5 acres or 1-2 hectares.
bolt : a commercial unit of length or area used to measure finished cloth. Generally speaking, one bolt represents a strip of cloth 100 yards (91.44 meters) long, but the width varies according to the fabric. Cotton bolts are traditionally 42 inches (1.067 meters) wide and wool bolts are usually 60 inches (1.524 meters) wide. Thus a bolt of cotton is 116.667 square yards (97.566 m2) and a bolt of wool is 166.667 square yards (139.355 m2).
bore: the bore of a gun is the inside diameter of its barrel. As a result, "bore" is sometimes used as a unit, meaning the same as gauge for shotguns and the same as caliber for other guns.
bucket : a unit of volume, generally informal. In the U.S., many commodities (both wet and dry) are sold in plastic buckets holding 5 U.S. liquid gallons (about 18.927 liters). In Britain, a bucket is often understood to be 4 gallons, or 18.182 liters based on the British Imperial gallon
bundle (bdl) : a unit of quantity for paper, equal to 2 reams or 40 quires. This would be 960 sheets using the old definition of 24 sheets per quire, or 1000 sheets using the newer quire of 25 sheets.
bundle (bdl) : a traditional unit of length for yarn, equal to 20 hanks. For cotton yarn, a bundle contains 16 800 yards (about 15.362 kilometers). For wool, a bundle contains 11 200 yards (10.241 kilometers).
bundle (bdl) : in the construction trades, a bundle is a package of shingles. Shingles are usually packed so that exactly 3, 4, or 5 bundles are needed to cover a square (100 square feet or 9.29 square meters). Asphalt shingles are often sold in bundles of 27, with 3 bundles per square, but the heavier cedar shingles generally require 5 bundles per square.
bushel (bu) : a traditional unit of volume used for measuring dry commodities such as grains and fruits. In the United States, the customary bushel is based on an old British unit known as the Winchester bushel. This unit dates to the early fourteenth century, at least: King Edward I defined the bushel to be 8 gallons in 1303. The form used in the U.S. was legalized by Parliament in 1696. One U.S. or Winchester bushel equals 4 pecks or 32 (dry) quarts; this is a volume of 2150.42 cubic inches or about 1.2445 cubic feet, and represents the volume of a cylindrical container 18.5 inches (47.0 cm) in diameter and 8 inches (20.3 cm) deep. The U. S. bushel holds about 35.239 07 liters. Traditionally, there is also a heaped bushel, which is 27.8% (sometimes 25%) larger than a regular bushel. The regular bushel is also called struck measure to indicate that the bushels have been struck, or leveled, rather then heaped. The origin of the word "bushel" is unclear; some scholars believe it derives from an ancient Celtic unit, but most believe it is of medieval French origin, probably a slang name for a wooden crate (the French word for wood is bois).
bushel (bu) : a unit of volume in the British imperial system (see gallon ) equal to 8 imperial gallons, or 2219.36 cubic inches (1.2844 cubic feet). The imperial bushel holds about 36.369 liters.
bushel (bu) : a commercial unit of weight for grains and other bulk commodities. Agricultural commodities such as wheat are traditionally sold by the bushel, but because commodities tend to settle and compact in shipping, disputes over the volume delivered arise easily. To avoid these disputes, traders in a market or a country generally agree on a standard weight for one bushel of the commodity. Often this standard weight is set by law. Although the bill of lading still shows "bushels," it is really the weight rather than the volume that is sold and guaranteed. For example, in the United States a bushel of wheat equals 60 pounds (27.216 kg), a bushel of barley 48 pounds (21.772 kg), a bushel of oats 32 pounds (14.515 kg), and a bushel of rye 56 pounds (25.401 kg). A more complete table is included.
caballeria: a traditional unit of land area in Spanish speaking countries. In Spain and Peru the caballeria is equal to 60 fanegas, which is roughly 40 hectares (100 acres). In Central America it equals 60 manzanas, which is roughly 45 hectares (110 acres). In Cuba, the caballeria is a smaller unit equal to 33.162 acres or 13.420 hectares, but in the Dominican Republic it is a larger unit equal to 1200 tareas or about 75.4 hectares (186.5 acres). In Puerto Rico, the caballeria was equal to 200 cuerdas (see below) which is about 78.6 hectares (194.0 acres).
cable: a unit of distance formerly used at sea. The traditional U.S. mariner’s cable was 120 fathoms long. This is equal to 720 feet, or 0.1185 nautical mile, or about 219.4 meters. The British Admiralty, in 1830, defined the cable to equal exactly 0.1 nautical (Admiralty) mile, which is 608 feet or about 185.3 meters. Some navies are now using a metric cable equal to exactly 200 meters (about 656.17 ft).
cade: an old name for a cask, sometimes used as a unit of measure for fish. A cade of herring, for example, was 720 fish.
caliber (cal) : a unit used to express the bore of a gun. (The bore is the inside diameter of the gun barrel.) Traditionally, the diameter was stated in inches, so that ".22 caliber" referred to a pistol having a bore of 0.22 inches (5.588 mm). This usage is declining, because bore diameters of many guns are now stated directly in millimeters. "Caliber" is the American spelling; elsewhere the unit is often spelled "calibre."
cart: a unit of volume, generally informal, equal to the capacity of a small cart. In Newfoundland, a cart of salt traditionally equalled 6 tubs or 108 Imperial gallons (490.98 liters).
cc : an alternate symbol for the cubic centimeter (cm3). This symbol is obsolete and should not be used; cm3 should be used in its place. The cubic centimeter is the same volume as the milliliter (mL or ml).
cent: an old English unit of quantity, usually equal to 100 but sometimes 120 (the great or long hundred) or some other figure of similar size. The Latin number 100, centum, is also used in English works for this quantity. it is almo an informal name for 1/100 of almost any unit, for example, a centiliter (0.01 liter). Phrases such as "15 cents of an inch" were formerly common in English.
chain (ch): a unit of distance formerly used by surveyors. The traditional British surveyor’s chain, also called Gunter’s chain because it was introduced by the English mathematician Edmund Gunter (1581-1626) in 1620, is 4 rods long: that’s equal to exactly 1/80 mile, 1/10 furlong, 22 yards, or 66 feet (20.1168 meters). The traditional length of a cricket pitch is 1 chain. Gunter’s chain has the useful property that an acre is exactly 10 square chains. The chain was divided into 100 links. American surveyors sometimes used a longer chain of 100 feet, known as the engineer’s chain or Ramsden’s chain. (However, Gunter’s chain is also used in the U.S.; in fact, it is an important unit in the Public Lands Survey System.) In Texas, the vara chain of 2 varas (55.556 ft) was used in surveying Spanish land grants. In the metric world, surveyors often use a chain of 20 meters (65.617 ft).
commercial acre : a unit of area used in U.S. real estate, equal to exactly 36 000 square feet or about 0.826 45 ordinary acre (0.334 45 hectare). The unit was invented by commercial realtors to express the approximate portion of an acre of subdivided land that remains to be sold in the retail market after portions are set aside (dedicated) for necessary streets and other utilities. Buyer beware! It is legal to sell land by the commercial acre in many U.S. states, although most consumers are not aware of the smaller size of the unit.
congius: a historic unit of liquid volume. The Roman congius was equal to about 3.2 liters (3.4 U.S. quarts or 2.8 British Imperial quarts); it was divided into 6 sextarii (sixths) which corresponded closely to modern pints. In the nineteenth century, the congius was used in British medicine and pharmacology as a name for the British Imperial gallon (4.546 09 liters).
cord (cd): a traditional unit of volume used to measure stacked firewood. Like most traditional units of trade, the cord has varied somewhat according to local custom. In the United States, the cord is defined legally as the volume of a stack of firewood 4 feet wide, 8 feet long, and 4 feet high. (In Maryland, the law specifies that the wood be stacked "tight enough that a chipmunk cannot run through it." Presumably it is up to the buyer to provide the chipmunk.) One cord is a volume of 128 cubic feet, about 3.6247 cubic meters, or 3.6247 steres. The name apparently comes from an old method of measuring a stack of firewood using a cord or string.
cubit: a historic unit of distance frequently mentioned in the Bible. The word comes from the Latin cubitum, "elbow," because the unit represents the length of a man’s forearm from his elbow to the tip of his outstretched middle finger. This distance tends to be about 18 inches or roughly 45 centimeters. In ancient times, the cubit was usually defined to equal 24 digits or 6 palms. The Egyptian royal or "long" cubit, however, was equal to 28 digits or 7 palms. In the English system, the digit is conventionally identified as 3/4 inch; this makes the ordinary cubit exactly 18 inches (45.72 centimeters). The Roman cubit was shorter, about 44.4 centimeters (17.5 inches). The ordinary Egyptian cubit was just under 45 centimeters, and most authorities estimate the royal cubit at about 52.35 centimeters (20.61 inches).
daktylos: an ancient Greek unit of distance equal to a finger width, about 19 millimeters or 0.75 inch. There were 16 daktylos in the pous, the Greek foot, and 24 in a pechys (cubit). This unit was the Greek predecessor of the Roman digit (see below).
dog watch : a unit of time on ships at sea equal to 2 hours, one half the usual length of a watch.
douzime: a traditional unit of distance used in watchmaking. The word is French for "twelfth," and a douzime is equal to 1/12 Swiss ligne. This is about 188 micrometers (microns) or 7.4 mils.
drachma: a traditional unit of weight in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. The drachma was a Greek coin, and the unit was originally the weight of the coin. In ancient times this was about 4.3 grams, but more recent versions are about 3.2 grams, 49.3 grains, or 0.113 ounce avoirdupois. There is also a traditional Dutch weight unit of the same name, but it is somewhat larger: 3.906 grams, 60.28 grains, or 0.1374 ounce avoirdupois. Compared to a similar English unit, the Greek drachma is about 2.5 pennyweight and the Dutch is almost exactly 3 pennyweight.
earth-rate unit (eru): a unit of angular velocity equal to 15° per hour, the rate at which the earth rotates on its axis. This unit is used to measure the drift rates of gyroscopes and various pointing devices in aerospace engineering.
ell: a traditional unit of length used primarily for measuring cloth. In the English system, one ell equals 20 nails, 45 inches, or 1.25 yards (exactly 1.143 meters). The word comes from the Latin ulna, which originally meant the elbow and is now the name of the bone on the outside of the forearm. The history of the unit is not clear. Some authorities believe the ell was originally a double forearm length, that is, 2 cubits or 36 inches, the same length as a yard. The ell and the yard do seem to be identified in some medieval documents, with ulna being used for both, and in Scotland the ell was equal to 37 Scots inches or 37.2 English inches (94.5 centimeters), only slightly longer than the yard. (This Scottish length might also reflect an old practice of cloth merchants in giving an extra inch with each yard, to allow for any irregular cutting at the ends of the piece.) However, the English cloth ell is definitely longer than the yard; it seems to be the distance from the shoulder to the fingers of the opposite hand. This reflects a practice of cloth merchants of holding the cloth at the shoulder with one hand and pulling the piece through with the opposite hand. This cloth ell was used with a similar length in France, where it was called the aune. The Dutch el and German elle are a little more than half the English ell; they may represent "arm’s-length" units like the Italian braccio, the Russian sadzhen, and the Turkish pik.
fathom (fth or fath) : a traditional unit of distance equal to 2 yards or 6 feet (approximately 1.829 meters). The word comes from the Old English faethm, meaning "outstretched arms", because a fathom is the distance between a man’s outstretched fingertips. This is a generic unit that has been used in many cultures since ancient times. Other versions include the Spanish braza, the French toise, the German klafter, the Danish favn (6.18 feet or 1.88 meters), the Swedish famn (5.84 feet or 1.78 meters) and the Japanese ken. In England, the fathom was a common unit during Saxon times, and it continued to be used for many purposes through the medieval era. In fact, the length of the foot may have been defined, early in the twelfth century, specifically to assure that 1 foot = exactly 1/6 fathom. Today the fathom is used almost exclusively at sea, measuring water depth, the length of ships’ cables, etc.
finger: a traditional unit of distance equal to 2 nails or 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters). This unit represents the length of the middle finger, from the tip to the joint where the finger is attached to the hand. OR
a name for the digit, a unit of distance equal to 3/4 inch (19.05 mm). The finger-width was a common unit of measurement in Anglo-Saxon England. After the 12-inch English foot became established, the finger survived as an informal measure.
folio : in traditional legal practice, a unit of quantity for the words in a legal document. In the U.S., a folio is 100 words; in Britain it is 72 or 90 words, depending on the type of document. In the days before mechanical copying, clerks were paid by the folio to copy legal documents. The word is from the Latin folium, leaf, and originally referred to a page; apparently the unit once represented the number of words on a page.
foot (ft or ‘): a traditional unit of distance. Almost every culture has used the human foot as a unit of measurement. The natural foot (pes naturalis in Latin), an ancient unit based on the length of actual feet, is about 25 centimeters (9.8 inches). This unit was replaced in early civilizations of the Middle East by a longer foot, roughly 30 centimeters or the size of the modern unit, because this longer length was conveniently expressed in terms of other natural units:
1 foot = 3 hands = 4 palms = 12 inches (thumb widths) = 16 digits (finger widths)
This unit was used in both Greece and Rome; the Greek foot is estimated at 30.8 centimeters (12.1 inches) and the Roman foot at 29.6 centimeters (11.7 inches). In northern Europe, however, there was a competing unit known in Latin as the pes manualis or manual foot. This unit was equal to 2 shaftments, and it was measured "by hand," grasping a rod with both hands, thumbs extended and touching. The manual foot is estimated at 33.3 centimeters (13.1 inches).
In England, the Roman foot was replaced after the fall of Rome by the natural foot and the Saxon shaftment (16.5 centimeters). The modern foot (1/3 yard or about 30.5 centimeters) did not appear until after the Norman conquest of 1066. It may be an innovation of Henry I, who reigned from 1100 to 1135. Later in the 1100s a foot of modern length, the "foot of St. Paul’s," was inscribed on the base of a column of St. Paul’s Church in London, so that everyone could see the length of this new foot. From 1300, at least, to the present day there appears be little or no change in the length of the foot.
Late in the nineteenth century, after both Britain and the U.S. signed the Treaty of the Meter, the foot was officially defined in terms of the new metric standards. In the U.S., the Metric Act of 1866 defined the foot to equal exactly 1200/3937 meter, or about 30.480 060 96 centimeters. This unit, still used for geodetic surveying in the United States, is now called the survey foot. In 1959, the U.S. National Bureau of Standards redefined the foot to equal exactly 30.48 centimeters (about 0.999 998 survey foot). This definition was also adopted in Britain by the Weights and Measures Act of 1963, so the foot of 30.48 centimeters is now called the international foot.
Elsewhere on this page are entries for the Danish fod, Swedish fot, and German fuae¸ (fuss). Other foot units include the French pied, Italian and Spanish pie, and Hungarian lab.
furlong (fur): a traditional unit of distance. Long before the Norman Conquest in 1066, Saxon farmers in England were measuring distance in rods and furlongs and areas in acres. The word "furlong", from the Old English fuhrlang, means "the length of a furrow"; it represents the distance a team of oxen could plow without needing a rest. A furlong equals 40 rods, which is exactly 10 chains, 220 yards, 660 feet, or 1/8 mile. One furlong is exactly 201.168 meters, so a 200-meter dash covers a distance very close to a furlong. The length of horse races is often stated in furlongs.
galileo (Gal or gal) : the CGS unit of acceleration. One galileo is an acceleration of 1 centimeter per second per second (cm/s2). This unit is used by geologists, who make careful measurements of local variations in the acceleration of gravity in order to draw conclusions about the geologic structures underlying an area. These variations are typically measured in milligals (mGal). One Gal is approximately 0.001 019 7 g, so a milligal is a very small acceleration, about 10-6 g. The name of the unit honors the Italian astronomer and natural philosopher Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who proved that all objects at the Earth’s surface experience the same gravitational acceleration. To avoid confusion with the symbol for the gallon, and to conform to the usual metric style, the symbol for this unit should be Gal rather than gal.
gallon (gal) : a traditional unit of liquid volume, derived from the Roman galeta, which originally meant a pailful. Gallons of various sizes have been used in Europe ever since Roman times. In the United States, the liquid gallon is legally defined as exactly 231 cubic inches; this is equal to the old English wine gallon, which originated in medieval times but was not standardized until 1707, during the reign of Queen Anne. Some scholars believe the wine gallon was originally designed to hold 8 troy pounds of wine. The U. S. gallon holds 4 liquid quarts or exactly 3.785 411 784 liters; a U.S. gallon of water weighs about 8.33 pounds. American colonists were also familiar with the Elizabethan beer and ale gallon, which held 282 cubic inches (4.621 liters).
gauge (ga) : A traditional unit measuring the interior diameter of a shotgun barrel. The gauge of a shotgun was the number of lead balls, each of a size just fitting inside the barrel, that were required to make up a pound. In other words, if a lead ball weighing 1/12 pound just fit in the barrel of a shotgun, then it was a 12-gauge shotgun. Today, the internal diameters for each gauge number are read from a table.
hexad : a unit of quantity equal to 6.
horsepower (hp) : a unit of power representing the power exerted by a horse in pulling. The horsepower was defined by James Watt (1736-1819), the inventor of the steam engine, who determined after careful measurements that a horse is typically capable of a power rate of 550 foot-pounds per second. This means that a horse, harnessed to an appropriate machine, can lift 550 pounds at the rate of 1 foot per second. Today the SI unit of power is named for Watt, and one horsepower is equal to approximately 745.6999 watts. (Slightly different values have been used in certain industries.) Outside the U.S., the English word "horsepower" is often used to mean the metric horsepower, a slightly smaller unit
inch (in or ") : a traditional unit of distance equal to 1/12 foot or exactly 2.54 centimeters. The Old English word ynce is derived from the Latin uncia, meaning a 1/12 part; thus "inch" and "ounce" actually have the same root. The inch was originally defined in England in two ways: as the length of three barleycorns laid end to end, or as the width of a man’s thumb at the base of the nail. The barleycorn definition is peculiarly English, but the thumb-width definition is generic. In fact, in many European languages the word for inch also means thumb: examples include the Dutch duim, Swedish tum, French pouce, and Spanish pulgada. In the history of English units the inch seems to come before the foot: after the Norman conquest of 1066 the foot was defined to equal 12 inches, rather than the inch being defined as 1/12 foot.
jag : a traditional British name for a small load, especially a small load of hay. Never standardized, the jag represented roughly 20-25 bushels (0.7-1.0 cubic meters).
jin : a traditional unit of weight in China, comparable to the English pound. During the European colonial era the jin was identified with the catty, a Malay unit widely used in various forms throughout East and Southeast Asia. Like the catty, the jin was then equal to 1 1/3 pounds or 604.79 grams. Traditionally, it was divided into 16 liang. In modern China, however, the jin is a metric unit equal to exactly 500 grams (1.1023 pounds) and divided into 10 liang. The kilogram itself is usually called the gongjin, or "metric jin." The spellings chin and gin also have been used for the jin.
journal : a traditional unit of land area in France, equal to the area that could be plowed in a day (jour is the French word for day). The unit varied from one region to another, generally in the range 0.3-0.45 hectare (0.75-1.1 acres). The juchart (see below) was a very similar unit used in Switzerland and southern Germany.
Additional Ideas (2)
keg : a traditional unit of volume or quantity, varying with the item contained in the keg. A keg of herring, for example, contains 60 fish. A keg of wine is frequently 12 U.S. gallons (about 45.42 liters), and a keg of beer is 1/2 barrel or 15.5 U.S. gallons (about 58.67 liters). "Keg" comes from an old Norse word for a small barrel.
ken : a traditional Japanese unit of length comparable to the English fathom. The ken equals 6 shaku, which is about 1.818 meters (5.965 feet). The ken is the length of a traditional tatami mat. At sea, this unit is also called the hiro.
koku : a traditional Japanese unit of volume, equal to about 180.391 liters (39.68 British imperial gallons or 6.37 cubic feet). The unit originated as an estimate of the amount of rice needed to feed a person for a year.
league : a traditional unit of distance. Derived from an ancient Celtic unit and adopted by the Romans as the leuga, the league became a common unit of measurement throughout western Europe. It was intended to represent, roughly, the distance a person could walk in an hour. The Celtic unit seems to have been rather short (about 1.5 Roman miles, which is roughly 1.4 statute miles or 2275 meters), but the unit grew longer over time. In many cases it was equal to 3 miles, using whatever version of the mile was current. At sea, the league was most often equal to 3 nautical miles, which is 1/20 degree , 3.45 statute miles, or exactly 5556 meters. In the U.S. and Britain, standard practice is to define the league to be 3 statute miles (about 4828.03 meters) on land or 3 nautical miles at sea. However, many occurrences of the "league" in English-language works are actually references to the Spanish league (the legua), the Portuguese league (legoa) or the French league (lieue). For these units, see below on this page.
li : a traditional unit of distance in China. A Confucian proverb widely misquoted in the West as "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" actually says "a journey of a thousand li begins with a single step." Although the traditional li was approximately 1/3 mile or 500 meters, the late imperial governments of China used a li of 1800 ch'ih, which is 2115 feet, about 0.401 mile, or 644.65 meters. In modern China, the li equals exactly 0.5 kilometer or 500 meters. In Chinese, the kilometer itself is usually called a gongli, or "metric li."
livre : a traditional unit of weight in French speaking countries and in Greece. The livre corresponds to the English pound and to the Spanish libra (see above). The livre is divided into 2 marcs or into 16 onces. The French livre varied from market to market, but the official standard from about 1350 to the introduction of the metric system was the livre poids de marc or livre de Paris of 489.5 grams (1.079 English pounds). In modern France, the livre is used as an informal metric unit equal to exactly 500 grams or 0.5 kilogram (1.1023 pounds). The traditional Greek livre is also about 500 grams.
load : a traditional, generally informal, unit of volume. In U.S. landscaping and some construction trades a load often means a cubic yard (0.764555 m3). In ordinary language in the U.S., a load often means the volume of a pickup truck, a varying unit. In Britain prior to modern times, a load was sometimes a standardized unit, but it varied with the commodity being carried. A typical size was 40 bushels (roughly 1.4 cubic meters).
magnum : a traditional unit of volume for wine, generally equal to 2 bottles. This is now exactly 1.5 liters (about 2.114 U.S. quarts).
man hour : a common unit of labor equal to the work of one person for one hour. The less restrictive term person hour is gradually coming into use.
manpower : an informal unit of power equal to 0.1 horsepower or about 74.57 watts. The unit seems to have been invented by American engineers.
marathon : a traditional unit of distance used in athletics. The length of a marathon is exactly 42 195 meters (about half an inch longer than 26 miles 385 yards). Invented for the first modern Olympic Games at Athens in 1896, the marathon recalls a run made in 490 BC by a Greek soldier (possibly Pheidippides) to bring to Athens the news of the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. However, the actual distance from Marathon to Athens is only about 36.75 kilometers. The 1896 run was exactly 40 kilometers from the Marathon Bridge to the Olympic Stadium. At the 1908 Olympics in London, a course of 26 miles 385 yards brought runners from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium (the story is that exactly 26 miles was intended, but Queen Alexandra insisted that the finish line be moved in front of the royal box). The marathons at the Olympic Games varied in length until the 1924 Olympics in Paris, when the International Olympic Committee adopted the 1908 London distance as official.
marc, marco, or mark : traditional units of weight in various countries of Western Europe. In each country the unit equals 1/2 the unit corresponding to the English pound. Thus the French marc equals 1/2 livre, 8 onces or about 244.75 grams; the Spanish marco equals 1/2 libra or about 230 grams; the German mark equals 1/2 pfund or about 280.5 grams; and the English mark equals 8 ounces or 226.8 grams. The English unit was used almost entirely for measuring precious metals.
mel : a unit of perceived musical pitch, originally defined by Stevens, Volkmann, and Newmann in 1937. Our perception of musical pitch is complex. Although tones of higher frequency are perceived as being higher in pitch, tones separated by equal intervals (frequency ratios), such as octaves, will not be perceived as being equally spaced in pitch. A pure tone of frequency 1000 hertz, at a sound level 40 decibels above the faintest sound a listener can hear, is defined to have a pitch of 1000 mels, and tones perceived as being equally spaced in pitch are separated by an equal number of mels. Because perceptions of pitch depend on a number of factors other than frequency, it is not possible to give a straightforward conversion between hertz and mels. For tones above 1000 hertz the perceived pitch in mels is lower than the frequency in hertz; a 10-kilohertz tone is perceived at around 3000 mels. For tones lower than 1000 hertz the perceived pitch is a little higher than the frequency in hertz.
middy : an informal unit of volume for beer used in many Australian pubs. A middy is generally 285 milliliters (or 10 British fluid ounces), larger than a pony but smaller than a schooner.
mile (mi) : a traditional unit of distance. The word comes from the Latin word for 1000, mille, because originally a mile was the distance a Roman legion could march in 1000 paces (or 2000 steps, a pace being the distance between successive falls of the same foot). There is some uncertainty about the length of the Roman mile. Based on the Roman foot of 29.6 centimeters and assuming a standard pace of 5 Roman feet, the Roman mile would have been 1480 meters (4856 feet); however, the measured distance between surviving milestones of Roman roads is often closer to 1520 meters or 5000 feet. In any case, miles of similar lengths were used throughout Western Europe. In medieval Britain, several mile units were used, including a mile of 5000 feet (1524 meters), the modern mile defined as 8 furlongs (1609 meters), and a longer mile similar to the French mille (1949 meters), plus the Scottish mile (1814 meters) and the Irish mile (2048 meters). In 1592, Parliament settled the question in England by defining the statute mile to be 8 furlongs, 80 chains, 320 rods, 1760 yards or 5280 feet. The statute mile is exactly 1609.344 meters. In athletics, races of 1500 or 1600 meters are often called metric miles. See also nautical mile.
moment : a medieval unit of time equal to 1/40 hour or 1.5 minutes. This meaning has come down to us only as "a brief interval of time." The moment was divided into 12 ounces of 7.5 seconds each.
obol, obolos, obolus : a historic unit of weight or mass. The obol is a very small weight that originated as the weight of a tiny Greek coin. In ancient Greece the obolos was equal to 1/6 drachma, or roughly half a gram (8 grains). In Rome, the obolus was equal to 1/48 Roman ounce (uncia) or about 0.57 gram. In modern Greece, the obolos is an informal name for the decigram (0.1 gram).
peck (pk) : a traditional unit of volume, formerly used for both liquids and solids but now used mostly for dry commodities such as grains, berries, and fruits. A peck is 2 gallons, 8 quarts, or 1/4 bushel. In the U. S. customary system, a peck holds 537.605 cubic inches or approximately 8.8098 liters. In the British imperial system, a peck is a little larger, holding 554.84 cubic inches or approximately 9.0923 liters. In Scotland, the traditional peck held about 9.1 liters for wheat, peas, or beans and about 12.1 liters for barley or oats. The word "peck", originally spelled "pek", comes from the name of a similar old French unit; the origin of the French unit is not known.
pencil hardness : a traditional measure of the hardness of the "leads" (actually made of graphite) in pencils. The hardness scale, from softer to harder, takes the form ..., 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H, .... The letters stand for Black, Hard, and Firm. (There is no industry standard defining the scale, so there is some variation between manufacturers in how it is applied.) In the U.S., many manufacturers use a numerical scale in which the grades B, HB, F, H, 2H correspond approximately to numbers 1, 2, 2-1/2, 3, and 4, respectively. The pencil hardness scales are not just used for pencils, however. They are used widely to state the durability of paints and other semi-soft coatings. The hardness rating of a coating is the hardness of the hardest pencil that does not penetrate and gouge the coating. This "scratch" hardness scale is analogous to the well-known Mohs hardness scale used in geology to measure the hardness of minerals.
proof (prf) : a traditional unit of proportion used for measuring the strength of distilled liquors, including medicinal solutions of alcohol as well as alcoholic beverages such as whiskey. The proof rating of a liquor is the alcohol content of the liquid expressed as a percentage of the alcohol content of a standard mixture, called the proof liquor. In the United States, the proof liquor is legally defined so to contain exactly 50% alcohol measured by volume. As a result, the U. S. proof rating is equal to exactly twice the percentage of alcohol present, measured by volume. Thus "86 proof" means 43% alcohol. In Britain proof ratings are no longer used, but the former proof liquor contained 57.27% alcohol by volume. This means that 86 proof Scotch, in the U.S., was formerly 75 proof in Britain.
quintal (q) : a traditional unit of weight in France, Portugal, and Spain. Quintal is also the generic name for a historic unit used in commerce throughout Europe and the Arab world for more than 2000 years. The unit began as the Latin centenarius, meaning "comprised of 100" because it was equal to 100 Roman pounds. The centenarius passed into Arabic as the cantar or qintar and then returned to Europe through Arab traders in the form quintal. The German zentner and English hundredweight are familiar forms of this same unit in northern Europe. The traditional French quintal equaled 100 livres (48.95 kilograms or 107.9 pounds), but today the word "quintal" in France usually means a larger metric unit (see next entry). The Spanish quintal is 100 libras (about 46 kilograms or 101 pounds). The Portuguese quintal is larger; it is equal to 128 libras (about 129.5 pounds or 58.75 kilograms). "Kwintal" is the English pronunciation given in standard English dictionaries, but "kintal" (closer to the Spanish pronunciation) and "kantal" (closer to the French) are also used.
ri : a traditional Japanese unit of distance, sometimes called the Japanese league because it is of similar length to the European league. The ri equals 2160 ken or 12 960 shaku (the shaku being the Japanese equivalent of the foot). This is about 3927 meters or 2.44 statute miles.
rod (rd) :a traditional unit of distance equal to 5.5 yards (16 feet 6 inches or exactly 5.0292 meters). The rod and the furlong were the basic distance units used by the Anglo-Saxon residents of England before the Norman conquest of 1066. The Saxons generally called this unit the gyrd, a word which comes down to us as the name of a different unit, the yard. "Rod" is another Saxon word which meant just what it means today: a straight stick. The Normans preferred to call the gyrd a pole or a perch (a word of French origin, meaning a pole; see perche). The length of the rod was well established at least as early as the eighth century. It may have originated as the length of an ox-goad, a pole used to control a team of 8 oxen (4 yokes). Scholars are not sure how the rod was related to shorter units. It may have been considered equal to 20 "natural" feet (actual foot lengths; see foot), or it may have been measured "by hand" as 30 shaftments. In any case, when the modern foot became established in the twelfth century, the royal government did not want to change the length of the rod, since that length was the basis of land measurement, land records, and taxes. Therefore the rod was redefined to equal 16.5 of the new feet. This length was called the "king's perch" at least as early as the time of King Richard the Lionheart (1198). Although rods and perches of other lengths were used locally in Britain, the king's perch eventually prevailed. The relationship between the rod and the other English distance units was confirmed again by the Parliamentary statute of 1592, which defined the statute mile to be either 320 rods or 1760 yards, thus forcing the rod to equal exactly 5.5 yards or 16.5 feet.
sack: a traditional unit of volume. Sacks of different commodities are of different sizes, but a typical measure is 3 bushels (about 105.7 liters based on the U.S. bushel, or 109.1 liters based on the British Imperial bushel). Also a traditional unit of weight, varying for different commodities shipped in sacks. In Britain, for example, the sack was a traditional measure for wool, fixed by Edward III at 364 pounds (26 stone) in 1340. In the U.S., a sack of salt is traditionally equal to 215 pounds, a sack of cotton 140 pounds, and a sack of flour 100 pounds. A sack of concrete is traditionally 94 pounds in the U.S., 87.5 pounds in Canada.
Scoville unit : a unit measuring the concentration of capsaicin, the "hot" ingredient in chili peppers. A measurement of, say, 50 000 Scoville units means that an extract from the pepper can be diluted 50 000 to 1 with sugared water and the "burn" of the capsaicin will still be barely detectable by the human tongue. (In practice, the measurements are now made with liquid chromatography.) The unit was invented in 1912 by the American pharmacologist Wilbur L. Scoville, who was working on the use of capsaicin in the muscle pain-relieving ointment Heet. Actual chili peppers have capsaicin concentrations from 5000 to 500 000 Scoville units.
season : a portion of a year. The word "season," derived from a Latin word meaning the time for sowing, originally meant one of the periods of the agricultural year. It has come to be used informally to mean the period of time characterized by any activity (such as the "football season") or more specifically as a unit of time equal to 1/4 year. Ideas of what constitutes a season in this latter sense vary from country to country. In North America, the astronomical seasons begin at the instants of equinox (for spring and fall) or solstice (for summer and winter), on or near the 21st days of March, June, September, and December. In meteorology, however, the seasons begin on the 1st days of March, June, September, and December.
shaftment : an old English unit of distance equal to 2 palms. A shaftment is the distance from the tip of the outstretched thumb to the opposite side of the palm of the hand. The ending "-ment" is from the old English word mund, hand. The shaftment was an important unit in Saxon England, where it was equal to about 16.5 centimeters (6.5 inches). After the modern foot came into use in the twelfth century, the shaftment was reinterpreted as exactly 1/2 foot or 6 inches (15.24 centimeters). The shaftment continued in common use through at least the fifteenth century, but it is now obsolete.
shaku : a Japanese word meaning "measure" or "scale", also used for several traditional units in Japan: As a unit of distance, the shaku is the Japanese foot, equal to about 30.30 centimeters or 11.93 inches; As a unit of area, the shaku equals 330.6 square centimeters (51.24 square inches); As a unit of volume, the shaku equals about 18.04 milliliters (0.61 U.S. fluid ounce).
sidereal day : a unit of time used in astronomy, equal to the period of time in which the earth makes one rotation relative to the stars. If we could view the earth from outside the Solar System, we would see that it actually completes 366.242 rotations during one year (one revolution around the sun). We only count 365.242 because one rotation is cancelled out for us by our tour around the sun. Thus the sidereal day, the average interval between two successive risings of the same star, is shorter than the mean solar day (see day) by 1/366.242. The sidereal day equals 23 hours 56 minutes 4.090 54 seconds, or 86 164.090 54 seconds. Like the regular day it is divided into 24 sidereal hours, each sidereal hour being divided into 60 sidereal minutes and each sidereal minute into 60 sidereal seconds. The sidereal hour equals 59 minutes 50.17 seconds; the sidereal minute equals 59.8362 seconds, and the sidereal second equals 0.997 270 second. Traditionally, observatories had clocks set to this sidereal cycle, and astronomers still use sidereal time in making telescope settings.
stimp : a measure of the "speed" of a green in golf. The speed is measured by a device called a stimpmeter after its inventor, Edward Stimpson. A golf ball rolls down a ramp inclined at an angle of 20° and then rolls across a level section of the green; the stimp rating is the number of feet the ball travels. A rating of less than 10 stimp is a slow green; championship greens usually have stimp ratings of about 12.
stone (st) : a traditional British unit of weight, rarely used in the U.S. Originally the stone varied in size, both from place to place and according to the nature of the item being weighed. A stone of sugar was traditionally 8 pounds, while a stone of wool could be as much as 24 pounds. Eventually the stone was standardized at 14 pounds avoirdupois or approximately 6.350 29 kilograms -- a convenient size because it makes the stone equal to exactly 1/2 quarter or 1/8 hundredweight. Today the stone is used mostly for stating the weight of persons or animals. No -s is added for the plural.
talent :a historic unit of weight, used in various forms throughout the eastern Mediterranean. The Hebrew sacred talent, mentioned in the Bible, was equal to 60 minas or about 30 kilograms (66 pounds). The Greek talent, also equal to 60 minas, was smaller, 25.8 kilograms or about 57 pounds.
tan : a traditional Chinese weight unit, now spelled dan in English transliteration. During the European colonial era the tan was equal to 100 cattys or 1600 taels. This is equivalent to 133.333 pounds, making the tan comparable to the European quintal as a commercial weight unit. In modern China the tan, or rather the dan, is equal to 100 jin, which is exactly 50 kilograms (110.231 pounds).
tower weights : the weight system used as the basis for English coinage during the medieval era; it is named for the Tower of London, where the Royal Mint was located. The system was based on the tower pound of 5400 grains (about 0.7714 avoirdupois pounds or 349.91 grams). The pound was divided into 12 ounces, and each ounce contained 20 pennyweight. (This structure was a partial reflection of the former English monetary system, in which the pound was divided into 20 shillings and each shilling into 12 pence.) In 1527, Henry VIII abolished the tower pound in favor of the slightly larger troy pound (see troy weights, below).
troy weights : a traditional English weight system of great antiquity, apparently in use since long before the Norman conquest of 1066. The system is believed to be named for the French market town of Troyes, where English merchants traded at least as early as the time of Charlemagne (early ninth century). The system is based on the troy pound of 5760 grains. The pound was divided into 12 ounces (480 grains) each containing 20 pennyweight (24 grains). Apothocaries, however, divided the troy ounce into 8 drams (60 grains) each containing 3 scruples (20 grains). The origin of the troy system is not clear, but a number of scholars believe the dram corresponds to the denarius, a Roman coin that weighed about 60 English grains and (when used as a weight) was also divided into 3 scruples. The troy system was always the theoretical basis of the traditional English monetary system, in which there were 12 pence (pennies) to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. However, in medieval England pennies did not actually weigh a troy pennyweight, because they were made using the tower weight system (see above) and thus weighed 22.5 grains instead of 24. In 1527, Henry VIII abolished the tower pound and made the troy system official for coinage; thereafter silver shillings weighed exactly 0.6 troy ounce. The smaller troy weights continued in common use in pharmacy and monetary affairs into the early twentieth century, but the troy pound was abolished in 1878 to avoid any commercial confusion with the avoirdupois pound. The troy system is practically obsolete today, but the prices of precious metals are still quoted by the troy ounce.
t'sun : Chinese unit of distance equal to 0.1 ch'ih or about 1.41 inches (3.58 centimeters). t'sun a unit of relative distance used in acupuncture. One t'sun is the distance between the two outer folds in the bent middle finger, or (according to some sources) the width of the thumb. This is a personal unit, different for each person and used to locate acupuncture points on that person's body. The unit is also spelled cun and is sometimes called the anatomical Chinese inch (ACI) or body inch in English.
twelvemonth : an old English name for a year.
Wales :In Britain, Wales has long served as an informal unit of area, much as Rhode Island has been used in the U.S. Wales has an area of about 8015 square miles or 20 760 square kilometers; it is 7.67 times the size of Rhode Island.
wan : a unit of quantity in China equal to 10 000. In Chinese, the wan is used much as the thousand is used in the West, as a basic unit for large quantities. Thus 100 000 is 10 wan, and 1 000 000 is 100 wan. However, as in the case of the Greek word myrios (myriad), the word wan is also used in Chinese to mean an indefinitely large number.
watch : a traditional unit of time, defined as the time a sentry stands watch or a ship's crew is on duty. On both land and sea, one watch is usually equal to 4 hours. At sea, the evening watch (16-20 hours, or 4-8 pm) is often divided into two shorter watches called "dog watches." When dog watches are in effect, sailors will have watch assignments that rotate through the day instead of falling at the same hours every day. Watches at sea are divided into 8 bells (4 bells for dog watches). The word watch is derived from an old English word wÃccan which meant "stay awake."
week (wk) : a traditional unit of time equal to seven days. The custom of the seven-day week, with one day set aside for rest and religious observance, goes back more than 3000 years to the ancient civilizations of the Middle East. The seven days originally had an astrological significance; there is one day for each of the five visible planets and one each for the sun and the moon. Christians and Moslems inherited the seven-day cycle from the Jewish religion. The Romans picked up the idea from the Persians and were using the week as early as the first century. When the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire, early in the fourth century CE, the Christian version of the week, with Sunday as the day of religious observance, became official throughout the Empire. Since none of the units of Roman date-keeping (the month, the quarter, and the year) equal a whole number of weeks, this made it necessary for the first time to have tables (we call them calendars!) showing the ever-changing relationship between the days of the week and the dates of the month. Link: The World Calendar Association promotes efforts to reform the calendar so that weeks and months would have a fixed relationship. Link: A perpetual calendar provides calendars for any month and year in the current (Gregorian) calendar.
Note: There are different traditions as to which day of the week is the first. In the U.S., most calendars show Sunday as the first day of the week, but the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) specifies that the week begins with Monday. There are also different ideas about how to number the weeks of the year, which is sometimes necessary for business purposes. The official solution to this question is that week 1 of the year is the week (beginning with Monday) that contains January 4. By this convention, week 1 of 2005 will be the week January 4-10, 2005. Link: ISO 8601 from Markus Kuhn.
yard (yd) : a traditional unit of distance equal to 3 feet or 36 inches. The word comes from a Saxon word gyrd or gyard meaning a stick, although the unit known as the gyrd in Saxon times was actually the rod, not the yard. The yard was established after the Norman conquest of 1066. According to tradition, King Henry I decreed that the yard should be the distance from the tip of his nose to the tip of his outstretched finger, thus defining the yard as exactly 1/2 fathom. Whether this actually happened or not, it does seem that the yard and the English foot were set at close to their modern lengths during or around the time of Henry's reign (1100-1135). The length of the oldest known standard yardstick, believed to date from 1445, agrees with the modern length within less than 0.1 millimeter. Today one yard is officially equal to exactly 91.44 centimeters or 0.9144 meter; this definition was adopted in the U.S. in 1959 and in Britain by the Weights and Measures Act of 1963.
yoke : another name for a pair. The yoke is used in describing teams of animals, especially oxen, used to pull plows or wagons.
Upon researching weights and measures I have come to several conclusions.
1) Most measures are based upon a human body. In a poly-species environment, there might be Elven Feet, Dwarven Feet, and Human Feet.
2) Beer and to a lesser extent Wine and Spirits are important. There are more measurement systems for these, that are seperate or parallel with the standard ones, than anything else.
3) Standards endure: Once someone sets a standard and it is enforced for a while by tradition or necessity, it sticks. The English measurement systems are proof of this. The reason the space shuttle is the width it is, is because of the stadard width of a Roman chariot (it determined the width of roads and the average length of a cart axel (ruts in road), which determined the width of mining cars, which determined the width of railroads ties and rail size, which determined the load length of launch pads.... )
4) Any field of study or area of endevor will have its own special measurements, both formal and informal. These will either be flippent, based upon where they came from, or the name of the person who created them. If you don't have the appropriate skills, you should have no clue as to what you have bought. Folio is a good example of this.
(Merchants beware... anybody remember Stembolts. )
5) If magic is studied in groups, there should be units like the Gandalf (unit of pyrotechnic width), Flambeu (measure of magical fire), Nortons (measure of illusionary quality), etc. these names will come from historic practioners OR the guy who came up with them. This way "effects" can be measures; so contests, bets, and the occasional measure of progress can be resolved.
6) Some scholar will come up with an "odd unit" to quantify what ever they are studying. Of course others might use the unit, no matter how stupid it is, just for the sake of argument/ discussion.