Defining Length: Can You Please Hold the Other End of this Rule?
can be defined as the distance between two points.
Saying that the length of room is eight feet is equivalent to
saying that the distance between two points at either end of the room is
eight feet. If someone holds a
rule to measure the length of a room, the endpoint of the measurement is
the mark on the rule that delineates the inches that coincides with the
edge of the room. And the
beginning of the measurement is the beginning point of the rule.
the length of a room is measured by using a rule and holding it at either
end of the room. The beginning and end of the rule serve as points of
measurement, and the length is determined by reading the inches or meters
off the rule.
Uniting on a Unit
is essential to measuring length is having a unit of measurement.
The American system uses the units of inch, foot, yard, and mile.
This is also called the imperial or U.S. system of measurement.
The units are derived from English (British) units.
This system is still in use in parts of the United Kingdom (UK),
although the metric system is used in the UK for much of the measurement
in scientific and industrial contexts.
Likewise, the metric system has made inroads in the United States,
but the imperial units still dominate.
European system uses the centimeter, meter, and kilometer as the
fundamental units of length. This
is called the metric system, and it is one most commonly used in countries
outside the United States. The
metric system originated in France in the 17th and 18th
centuries. It is now called
the International System of Units and is abbreviated SI.
It is based on multiplying or dividing its basic units by ten and
Importance of Establishing a Standard of Measurement
the units of length vary from one society to another, they are derived in
a similar way. A standard of
length serves to define a unit of length, and this unit is used to measure
order to establish a unit of measurement, whether it is an inch, a foot, a
meter, or any other measurement unit, the unit has to be defined in terms
of some known standard. Unless
the unit is defined in terms of a standard, it will not have a reference
and cannot be used as a unit of measurement.
The standards for the units of measurement we use today have
changed many times over the centuries.
U.S. Standard and the Evolution of English Standards
ancient times, units of measurement were defined in terms of parts of the
body. This was convenient in
that it provided a standard readily available to all.
The obvious drawback was that these units varied from one person to
is generally accepted that the standard for a foot was the length of the
average man’s foot, although the 12-inch foot as defined today is
somewhat longer the length of the modern human foot.
The inch was commonly defined in terms of the width of a man’s
thumb. The term ‘yard’ was
derived from the Old English word ‘gyrd’, meaning “rod” or
“measure.” The yard came
to be known as the distance from the nose to the end of the middle finger
of the out-stretched hand. In
the 12th century, King Henry I decreed the yard to be the
distance from his nose to the tip of his out-stretched thumb.
This closely approximates the distance we call a yard today, which
is three feet.
definition of a foot as consisting of 12 inches goes back to Roman times.
When the Normans conquered England in 1066, they brought with them
the Roman tradition of measurement of using a foot with 12 inches.
At some point there was an attempt to standardize the length of a
foot. Some attribute this to
Henry I, who reigned from 1100 to 1135.
Later in the 1100s, a “foot of St. Paul’s,” which was similar
to our modern foot, was inscribed at St. Paul’s church in London at the
base of a column so all could see. During
this time the idea arose of defining the length of a foot as being 1/3
yard, making the yard the primary unit of measurement.
This idea appears to have come from Henry I, who is said to have
ordered the construction of three-foot standards, called yards.
Units of Length: One Furlong and a Doorway
following are some common units of length measurement that you may
encounter in a variety of contexts.
cubit – The length of the arm from the elbow to the extended finger
(about 3000 BC)
Greek foot – The width of 16 fingers
Roman inch – The Greek foot divided into 12 sections (the unicae)
– Decreed by King Henry I in the 12th century who ordered a
yard to be constructed to be the length of three feet
distance between the end of your thumb and the first joint is about one
width of a standard doorway is one yard
meter = 3.28 feet
inch = 25.4 millimeters
foot = 0.3048 meters
mile = 5,280 feet
mile = 1760 yards
mile = 1.609344 kilometers
kilometer = 0.62137 miles
yard = 914.4 millimeters
yard = 0.9144 meters
nautical mile = 1.150779 miles
furlong = 660 feet
furlong = 7920 inches
centimeter = 0.3937 inches
inch = 2.54 centimeters
centimeter = 10 millimeters
meter = 100 centimeters
kilometer = 1000 meters
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