Measurement...The long and short of things!

The word "measurement" is derived from the Greek word "metron" which means a limited proportion. Laws to regulate measurement were originally developed to prevent fraud. Believe it or not, most of our traditional measurements have been more or less unchanged since the 5th and 6th centuries. The earliest for of the yard, for example, is only about 1/100th of an inch different from today's version. Below are some origins of our modern measurements.

The Inch

In its earliest form, the inch was the width of a grown mans thumb. In the 14th century, King Edward II if England decreed that "the length of an inch shall be equal to three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end lengthwise. This evolved into today's standard measurement.

The Foot

Originally the length of a person's foot (obviously), the foot was later standardized in English speaking countries to be 12 inches long. In other parts of the world, however, it could be anywhere from 11-14 inches in length.

The Yard

Originally the standard length of the belt that Anglo Saxons wore. In the early 1100s, King Henry I of England decreed that a yard would be the distance from his nose to the thumb of his outstretched arm, which came to about 36 inches.

The Mile

A descendant of the ancient Roman measure called the mille passuum, which meant "a thousand paces." Each pace was the equivalent of 5 Roman feet, which meant there were 5,000 feet to the mile. Today there are 5,280 feet to the mile. Why the extra feet? Because when the English incorporated the mile into their system of measurement, they wanted it to be equal to 8 furlongs. A furlong (originally defined as the distance a horse could pull a plow without resting), was exactly 660 feet long, so the English multiplied 660 by 8 to get 5,280. Why didn't they just knock some feet off the furlong and keep the mile a tidy 5,000 feet long? Because property was measured in furlongs and changing the furlong would have screwed up every property holding in the kingdom.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Use the resources below to help you master "The Big Inch" and measuring.

Measurement Activities

Measurement Quizzes