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IMPERIAL UNITS

MASS (WEIGHT)
GRAIN
A grain was said equal to the mass of an average grain of wheat taken from the middle of an ear.
There 7,000 grains in the the avoirdupois pound and 5,760 grains in the troy the pound.
SCRUPLE
From the atin word s!rupus, a small rough pe""le or a !hip of stone # "asi!ally, something
small. A s!ruple is $0 grains.
PENNYWEIGHT
At one time %nglish pennies weighed $& grains.
DRAM
A fra!tion of an oun!e 'an eigth or a si(teenth depending on the system). The word is derived from
the an!ient *reek !oin the dra!hma '+,-./0). 1ne dra!hma weighed a"out one dram. 2ram also
refers informally to a serving of whiskey, espe!ially 3!ot!h. 4n this !onte(t, one might translate
dram as 5a wee "it5. 'An a!tual dram of whiskey would not "e !onsidered an adequate serving,
however. 6hen someone says this, they are "eing witty.)
OUNCE
The word oun!e has the same origin as the word in!h # the 1ld %nglish word for one twelfth7
un!ia. An in!h is one8twelfth of a foot and an oun!e is one twelfth of a pound. 6ell, sometimes. 4t
!ould also "e one si(teenth, "ut that9s not the origin of the word. 4 think what9s really going on is
that in the olden days the world for twelfth was used indis!riminately for all sorts of small fra!tions
with very little regard for mathemati!al !onsisten!y. 4 think they had other things to worry a"out.
POUND
:ound !omes from atin pondus for weight. The a""reviation l" for pound !omes from the ;oman
unit li"ra 'a"out three8quarters of an %nglish pound), whi!h !omes from the atin li"ro, to weigh. A
variant sym"ol had a "ar drawn through the as!enders like this . 4n !ursive form, the sym"ol was
redu!ed to two verti!al and two hori<ontal strokes like this =. This sym"ol for pound lives on today
as the pound key on the telephone 'also known as the num"er sign, hash, or o!tothorpe).
STONE
A unit usually used for "ulk agri!ultural !ommodities and legally defined as equal to >& pounds. 4n
pra!ti!e, however, the weight of a stone varied with the arti!le weighed.
glass7 5 l"s
meat, fish7 ? l"s
sugar, spi!es7 ? l"s
wa(7 >$ l"s
!heese7 >6 l"s
hemp7 @$ l"s
The word stone is "oth the singular and plural form of the unit 'one stone, two stone, three stone).
HUNDREDWEIGHT
ogi!ally, a hundredweight should "e a hundred of something # a hundred pounds would "e my
edu!ated guess. This was the !hoi!e made in %ngland way, way "a!k and adopted "y the Anited
3tates at its founding. But what if you prefer the stone over the pound as your "asi! unit of weightC
This was the !ase in %ngland soon after the Ameri!ans left the %mpire. The nearest multiple of a
stone greater than a hundredweight is ? stone or >>$ pounds. This "e!ame the new
hundredweight in %ngland. To distinguish "etween the two, the original
>00 pound hundredweight is !alled a short hundredweight or a !ental while the newer >>$ pound
hundredweight is !alled a long hundredweight.
TON
The origin of this word is the 1ld %nglish tunne # a "ig !ontainer. Brewers are the last people who
still use this word 'mash tun, lauter tun, fermentation tun). ater the word also !ame to mean the
!apa!ity of su!h a !ontainer and was used as a unit of "oth volume and weight. The volume unit
was not as popular as the weight unit e(!ept in the railroad and shipping industries. %ventually it
was de!ided that a ton would "e a good name for two thousand pounds, sin!e that9s a"out the
weight of water that a tun !ould hold. 6hen the hundredweight !hanged in %ngland, so too did the
ton. Ameri!a kept the unit at $000 pounds while the %nglish !hanged the unit to $$&0 pounds.
'$$&0 pounds is >60 stone,
"y the way.) As with the hundredweight, the Ameri!an ton is !alled a short ton while the %nglish ton
is !alled a long ton. The similarly si<ed 34 unit of >000 kg is !alled a tonne in %ngland or a metri!
ton in the Anited 3tates. To misquote *eorge Bernard 3haw, 5%ngland and Ameri!a are two
!ountries divided "y a !ommon unit system.5