Monday, August 03, 2009

The Answer

... to my little puzzle.


The difference between shoe sizes in both the UK and the US is one barleycorn - a third of an inch, which is the length of the average grain of barley. (Debbie, your husband was on the right track, though the barleycorn was used to subdivide the inch rather than to calculate it.)

In the UK the scale starts at child size zero, and each successive size is found by adding one barleycorn to the length of the insole. Child size zero is one hand (four inches); child size twelve is two hands (eight inches). The scale starts again at adult size zero (better known as child size 13) which is 8 and 1/3 inches. A man's size 10 is 8 and 1/3 inches plus ten thirds, making it 11 and 2/3 inches. Add a little extra length for the sole and you get 12 inches ... or one foot. I checked Tevye's size 10 slippers and they were exactly one foot in length. Neat, huh? The US measures used the same increment, but start at one instead of zero so US sizes are UK sizes plus one (for men and children at least - US women's sizes add 2 and 1/2. Why???)

(Source: About the Size of It by Warwick Cairns, which is a very readable summary of why we measure as we do.)


Debbie said...

But then explain to me about the whole weighing in "stones" thing. I always have to look up how many pounds are equal to a stone. Not that it comes up too much here in the US but sometimes it does.

Melanie B said...

Fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

The Bookworm said...

Hi Debbie,

Even the book didn't seem to have an answer for stones, which - these days at least - are pretty much only used in Britain for weighing people (I know my weight in stones and pounds, but not pounds alone, which is typical here). However, I'm going to take a flying guess based on the what I learned from the book ...

In the UK the hundredweight is 112 pounds, not 100 as it is in the US. This is a historical quirk due to trying to fit in with international measures for the sake of imperial trade. One stone is 14 pounds, which means 8 stones = 1 hundredweight. According to Warwick Cairns, natural subdivisions of weights tend to be exponential and a factor of two or three, because it is easy to divide by two or three by eye, or two by feel. One stone is therefore one half of one half of one half of one hundredweight - a hundredweight divided in two three times. In other words, I guess that a stone is simply a logical and physically manageable (easy to lift in two hands) division of a British hundredweight. You could then use eight large but easily liftable "stones" as a rough and ready way of "weighing" a hundredweight. Clear as mud? (And possibly completely wrong!)

Dorothy said...

I could NOT guess that!

BTW, you hit the nail on the head with my mystery picture. {g} Did dd1 enjoy Soul Survivor last year? Our kids had a blast. Me, not so much.

Debbie said...

Different Debbie here--

Thanks for the explanations re: shoes and stones.

Yep, clear as mud! :-)

Sometime we should do a joint blog posting on the differences between British and American English. As Churchill said, "Two people divided by a common language..."

Elizabeth@Frabjous Days said...

Fancy that.
The puzzle had me puzzling. As I feel asleep, I was thinking, 'Wheat? What a daft idea!'