Units of measurement create and divide the structures of the world we live in. Our time, calendars, payment methods, transport, locations, and just about everything else can all be determined by units of measurement.
Much of the world now operates under the metric system, which originated in France shortly after the French Revolution. The metric system is a series of units that all correspond with one another. 1 litre of water, for example, weighs 1 kilogram.
However, there are many weird, wonderful, and unusual units of measurement that have been used throughout history, and many such units are still used to this day. There are even some that are being discovered/created as we move into smaller and smaller worlds at a quantum level and bigger and bigger worlds at a galactic level.
So join us as we take you through 16 weird and wonderful units of measurement.
It may sound like a simple question, but it is quite complex to actually determine what a measurement is. Broadly, measurement can be defined as the quantification of attributes of an object or event that can be used to form comparisons with other objects or events.
Humans have used measurements of one kind or another since the dawn of time, and just about everything we have in the world today can be measured in some way. Some earlier systems were codified and written down, while most others have been lost to the sands of time, leaving just a few odd relics behind.
So let's jump in and begin our exploration of weird and wonderful measurements by finding out what a hand unit is used for.
The hand is a unit of measurement that dates back to Ancient Egypt. Originally, a hand was measured on the breadth of a splayed adult hand from the tip of the thumb to the little finger, which led to a lot of variation.
Although its size varied throughout its usage, the hand has come to be standardised to equal exactly 4 inches.
In many parts of the world, to this day, hands are used to measure the size of horses.
Horses are measured in hands, but horses are also a unit of measurement used in horse racing.
A horse is equivalent to roughly 8 feet or 2.4 metres. There are also shorter horse distances such as a head, a neck, or a nose.
Keeping to the theme of racing, in boat races - namely the varsity competitions between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge - distances are expressed in boat lengths.
The length of a traditional rowing boat is 62 feet or around 19 metres. Margins of victory in boat races are often expressed in multiples or fractions of boat lengths.
You may often hear people say that something was "as big as a football pitch" or that it "was the size of three football pitches." This is a colloquialism that has come into common use, but it can still be used as a rough comparison for length.
The official association football rules that state that a professional pitch must be between 90-120 metres in length and 45-90 metres in width. Most professional pitches are 105 metres by 68 metres.
An American football pitch is usually 91 metres long (not including the long end zones at the end) and 49 metres wide.
The Royal Albert Hall
Another colloquialism commonly used is to say that there is enough of something to "fill the Albert Hall." This phrase was brought to global prominence by John Lennon's penmanship in The Beatles' song A Day in the Life, in which he wryly crooned that there were so many holes in Blackburn, Lancashire that "now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall."
The actual volume of the Albert Hall is hard to measure and depends on the exact area you consider part of the building. The auditorium is judged to be somewhere between 85,000 and 99,000 cubic metres.
A jiffy is often used to express a very quick moment. If something does not take long, it can be done in a jiffy.
But did you know that the jiffy is also an official unit of measurement used in computing?
The jiffy is the time it takes for a system timer to interrupt the processor. This is normally about 0.01 seconds, though it does vary.
A jiffy is also used in electronics to denote the period of an alternating power cycle. It is normally a 60th or a 50th of a second in most mains power supplies.
Dog years is a phrase often used to explain the age of a dog. Although every definition of a dog year is scientifically inaccurate, some are more precise than others.
The standard definition of dog year is that it is equal to 7 human years or that it is roughly 52 days long. This measure is so inaccurate that it is now widely considered a popular myth.
Another definition of a dog year is that the first two years of a dog's life are equivalent to 10.5 human years each (so 21 years altogether), and every subsequent year is equal to 4 human years. This is a more precise measure, though it doesn't take into account the size and breed of the dogs.
There is no one measure of dog years that works for all dogs as there is such a wide variety of lifespans in the canine world. For this reason, dog years are not an accurate measurement and can only be used colloquially.
We all know that a year is the amount of time it takes for the Earth to complete one revolution around the sun. But did you know that our whole solar system is also revolving as a unit around the galactic core of the Milkyway Galaxy?
The time it takes for the solar system to complete one galactic year, as they are called, is approximately 250 million years.
You may be wondering why anyone would ever need to know a very large unit of time such as this one, but there are long-term measurements that can be delineated by Galactic Years. For example, oceans began to appear on Earth after 4 galactic years, life began at 5, and the Earth is roughly estimated to be about 20 galactic years old, which doesn't sound so old when it's put like that!
A moment has slipped into common parlance and now simply means a very short period of time. However, in the Medieval era, a moment was a specific unit of time.
A moment was marked on sundials, with 40 moments making up a normal hour. This means that 1 moment is equivalent to 90 seconds.
Scoville heat unit
The Scoville scale is a measure of the spiciness of chillies. It is based on the concentration of capsaicinoids within the chilli, which is what gives it heat.
Pure capsaicin has 16 million Scoville heat units. Habaneros and scotch bonnets have between 100,000 - 350,000 Scoville heat units. A jalapeno has between 2,500 and 10,000.
A nanosecond is one thousand-millionth of a second, and a shake is equal to 10 nanoseconds. This is the approximate time for a generation within a nuclear chain reaction, hence why the terminology is only ever formally used by physicists.
Although it is an esoteric measurement intended primarily for scientists, the term actually comes from the phrase "two shakes of a lamb's tail", which is used to mean something will be done quickly.
A beard-second refers to the length the average beard grows in a second, about 5 nanometres. A nanometer is one billionth of a metre, and each individual strand of human hair is roughly 60,000 nanometres thick.
Mickey's are named after Mickey Mouse and are a unit of distance that measures the distance of the smallest detectable movement of a computer mouse.
A Mickey is about 0.1 mm, but the exact size depends on the equipment.
Upon analysing data from over 250 megalithic stone circles in England and Scotland, a Scottish professor concluded that there would have been a common unit of measurement that was used to spread the stones based on their average distance. He termed this a megalithic yard, which is roughly equal to 0.829 metres.
A nibble is a measure of data. It is equal to 4 bits and is half an 8-bit byte.
Half a nibble is called a "crumb" and equals 2 bits.
A siriometer is a seldom used unit equal to about one million times the average distance between the Earth and Sun.
It is named a siriometer as it is about twice the distance between the Earth and the Sirius star, the brightest in the sky and sometimes known as the Northern Star.
As well as being twice the length of here to Sirius, a siriometer is also measured as approximately 15.8 light years.
We have become accustomed to standard metric units of measurement that now make so much sense to our perceptive brains that even some of the old imperial units seem antiquated and no longer useful. However, for millennia before us, humans used all sorts of things to measure the world, and even to this day, people commonly use phrases or sayings to quantify things in terms that are at once both more and less abstract.
So next time you are asked how tall you are, how long it will take you to reach your destination, or even what the time is, why not offer an answer using one of the measurement units from our weird and wonderful list?