Wordjoy: obscure measurements

Howdy howdy, it’s about time for another Wordjoy, don’t you think? Let’s delve into some of my favorite words: old-fashioned measurements.

This one began for me a long time ago when Merrian-Webster’s Word of the Day was scruple, meaning the smallest possible amount of something. More formally, one scruple equals twenty grains. Three scruples make a dram. Here’s where it gets complicated: eight drams make an ounce of volume, but sixteen drams make an ounce of weight. Does that make sense?

On to volumes generally, and cask measurements specifically. Now, there isn’t one single system of cask measurements, but here are two of them:

The largest is one tun, which equalled anywhere from 208 to 256 gallons (its size was reduced over time for various reasons, including divisibility and preferred systems of measurement) One tun equalled two butts, one butt equalled two hogsheads, 2/3s of a hogshead equalled one barrel, one barrel equalled two kilderkins, one kilderkin equalled two firkins, one firkin equalled two pins, and one pin equalled 4.5 gallons. If we now calculate backward, we find a tun volume of 216 gallons, which is somewhere in the neighborhood we want.

In an alternative system the largest is again the tun. Half a ton is called either a butt (as before) or a pipe. One third of a tun is called a tertian or puncheon, and one quarter of a tun (or half a butt) is, as before, is a hogshead. One sixth of a tun is a tierce, one eighth of a tun is a barrel, and one fourteenth of a tun is a rundlet.

I’d like to note that, in my list of newest (to me) new words, I also have stiver, which, like scruple, means the smallest possible amount of something. I’d also like to note that I have blemmyae down twice … but that’s a word for another week.

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4 thoughts on “Wordjoy: obscure measurements

  1. Cool! I’d never heard of most of these. Now you’ve made me want to write a book about a merchant who cheats his customers. 🙂

    I see you changed your banner picture. Super wintry! I love it, though it’s not as cosy as the other picture. (You don’t have an autumn one?)

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