English units is a mix of influences from the different cultural invasions the islands have been affected by. A set of these units including the inch, yard, gallon and acre are part of the British (Imperial) system of measurements and have in modern times been standardized according to the metric system.

This article will take a look at the rest of the units not so often associated with the Imperial system but often related in ratios to Imperial units.

The variety of units used through English history is fascinating. There is coherence in the system but one must
have a great memory and skills in mathematics to translate how many *poppyseeds* one *fathom* is.
The graph shows the relationship between a set of older English units of length.

Real *poppy seeds* are in fact obtained from opium poppies which can have a medical effect. 40 grams of poppy
seeds equals a medical dose of 10 mg morphine. Why this has been chosen as a units of length is in itself interesting,
for our purposes however it is defined as a ^{1}/_{4} of a barleycorn. The barleycorn is the base unit of
UK and US shoe sizes.

Done with the cereals, now consider the set of units based on the human body. In the image of the human hand,
the unit *inch* is not included but is the length of a thumb. In English the word inch is derived from the
Latin word *uncia*, meaning one-twelfth, of a foot.
The distance labeled 1 is called a *shaftment*, meaning the palm plus an extended thumb. A *hand* is
4 inches and covers the palm and the width of the thumb labeled 2. Label 3 is a *palm* and equals 3 inches or 4
fingers. A *span* is the length between an extended thumb and the little finger indicated by label 4 equaling 9
inches. A *finger* or fingerbreadth is ^{7}/_{8} inches and indicated by label 5. The slightly
shorter *digit* is the distance labeled 6 and equals ^{3}/_{4} inch.

Originally, the English *foot* was the same as the Roman foot equaling 296 mm. With the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons
the North-German foot of 335 mm was introduced. The modern foot of 304.8 mm came in the late 13^{th} century.

The distance from fingertips to the elbow is called a *cubit* and equals 18 inches. A unit commonly used for
measuring cloth is the *ell* which equals the distance from from the fingertip of an outstretched arm to the shoulder
of the opposite arm, a distance equaling 45 inch.

Stretch out both your arms and the distance between the fingertips is called a *fathom* equaling 6 feet.

A *rod*, which also is known as a *perch* or *pole*, is 16 ^{1}/_{2} feet. Is has
been used when surveying land and in architecture. A *chain* equals four rods. The length comes from the chains
used by surveyors when measuring distances used up until recent times. A *Gunter's chain* named after Edmund Gunter
who was a 16^{th} century English mathematician, was used when measuring distances used in geometric triangulation
when charting. A gunter's chain equals 66 feet. A chain can be split into *links* where a link is a 100^{th}
of a chain or 7.92 inch.

A *furlong* is based on the distance a plough team could be driven without rest equaling 40 rods or 600 Anglo-Saxon
feet, thus 660 modern feet. The old *Roman mile* was 5000 feet as of year 1066, but was extended to 5280 feet in
1592 to make it a whole number of furlongs (8). The modern mile is also called a *statute mile*.
A *league* equals 3 miles. So a nautical league is different from a statute mile. Originally a league is the distance
covered by an hours walk.

A *yard* was originally the distance from the King's nose to his outstretched hand. The word yard is an old English word for staff,
rod or stick. The stick used when measuring the anatomy of the monarch was then the standard yard throughout the kingdom. A yard is three
feet and has is more recent times been defined by a standard bronze yard stick. See the article on the
British
Imperial system and the yard for more details.

The distance of one *pace* is originally a Roman unit deriving from the *passus* which was the distance from the heel of one foot to the the heel of the same foot when it touched the ground the next time.

Play with these units and try converting to meters or inch to see what they become in our contemporary units on the length unit conversion page.

The older English units for areas are closely connected to the agricultural life they evolved within. The *acre* is
used in contemporary language but has very old history. It is from the beginning a Saxon unit meaning field. It was
traditionally estimated as the area it was possible to plough in one day. It is more precisely defined as a rectangle with
width of one chain (four rods) and the length of a furlong. Since furlongs vary between regions an English acre is
4,840 yd^{2}, a Scottish 6,150 yd^{2} and an Irish 7.840 yd^{2}.

A *rood* is a quarter of an acre or one furlong in width by one rod in length.

A *carucate* is the area a team of
eight oxen can plough in one year, which would equal 120 acres. One eigth of that or 15 acres would be
what a single ox may plow in a year and that is called a *bovate*. One the same topic, the area a pair of oxen may plough in a year (30 acres) is called *virgate* or *yard land*.

Finally, a *perch* is the area enclosed by one rod squared.

Convert between these and more modern units on the area conversion page.

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