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Counting the inches

The word “ton” is derived from the French “tonnerre,” or “thunder,” from the sound wine barrels made when rolled. But there are various standards of a ton. You get a long ton, a short ton and metric ton.

A US ton, the short ton, is equivalent to 2000 pounds (907.185 kilograms). A British ton, the long ton or gross ton, is 2240 pounds (1016.047 kilograms) because there are 112 pounds in their hundredweight.

The United States, Great Britain and Canada each also had their own definition of the inch. It was only in 1958 that the inch was standardized to 25.4 millimetres exactly.

A problem still exists for the foot, where the International Foot is based on the 25.4 mm inch, but the Survey Foot – aka the U.S. Survey Foot – is based on the 25.40005 mm inch. One International Foot equals 0.999998 U.S. Survey Feet. Over 100 miles (160 km) they differ by 1.05 ft (32 cm).

In meters, the International Foot is 0.3048 meters and the Survey Foot is 0.30480060960125017024227597156924 meters.

Counting the inches

In Celtic society it was considered a disgrace to allow oneself to become fat. Each Celtic village kept a belt of standard length which, periodically, was tried on by all the men. If the belt didn’t fit, the man was fined. The length of the belt was known as a yard, which derives from the word for a rod or straight branch. By the 12th century there were so many different belt sizes that King Henry I (1069–1135) decided to standardize the yard as the distance from the thumb of his outstretched arm to his nose.

Today the International Yard is standard equal to 3 feet (36 inches) or exactly equal to 0.9144 meters.

And in case you’re counting the inches, the average waist size for American men is 39 inches and 37 inches for American women, which is about 4 inches wider than people from most other nations. Compared to average height it is not exactly the perfect Waist-Hip-Ratio. But that was before the recession.

History of length measurements

National Institute of Standards and Technology

International Organization for Standardization