Can You Fathom a Bushel and a Peck? Fathom is derived from the Old English word faeom or the Old Saxon word fathmos, meaning the length of the outstretched arms. It was eventually standardized to the length of two yards. Although international nautical charts have converted to meters, the United States still measures depth with fathoms.
Bushel comes from the old French words boissel and boisseau and is
a measure of dry goods equal to about eight gallons (or four
pecks). Today, it is most commonly used to measure things by their
weight, and that weight varies depending on the commodity
measured. Typical goods sold by the bushel and their weights
include oats (32lb), corn (56lb), wheat (60lb), and soybeans
Peck is likely derived from the Old French, pek or picot, and is
also a measure of dry goods or commodities. Some retailers,
farmers at markets and roadside stands still sell fruits and
vegetables by the peck. A peck is equal to about two gallons.
A cord is traced back to the 1600s when wood was sold in bundles
tied with a cord. Today, a cord of firewood must take up 128 cubic
feet, traditionally in a stack 8′ x 4′ x 4′. The size of a cord of
wood is typically regulated, either by a state or national
Knot comes from the word of the same spelling meaning intertwined
ropes. To measure speed, a long rope had knots tied regularly,
about every 50 feet, and a log tied to the end. The log was
dropped into the water and a sandglass upended at the same time to
time how many knots per time unit. Eventually, the speed of one
knot became standardized at one nautical mile (6076 feet vs. land
mile 5,280 feet) per hour.
Mach (pronounced mock) was named after Ernst Mach in 1937. Mach
numbers represent the ratio of the speed of an object moving
through a fluid, gas, or atmosphere and the local speed of sound.
When space shuttles re-entered the atmosphere, they initially
traveled at a speed greater than Mach 25.
An inch was originally the width of a man’s thumb at the base of
the nail. After 1066, 1 inch was equal to 3 barleycorn, dry and
round, placed end to end, lengthwise.
A foot was the length of a human foot. A yard was the distance
from the tip of the nose to that of the middle finger on an
One thousand paces of a Roman Legion was a mile. A furlong was
originally the length of one furrow in a common field, a bit over
200 feet long. In the 9th century, it was standardized to be the
same as a Roman stadium, one eighth of a Roman mile.