12 Unusual Units of Measurement You Might Not Know About

Were you aware that a “jiffy” is a legitimate unit of time, equivalent to 1/60th of a second?

Frequent pub quiz attendees may be familiar with the occasional quantitative question posed by quizmasters.

How many inches are in this, how much water is in that, or how many x‘s can fit inside y.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a host who enjoys keeping things eccentric, it’s worthwhile to be prepared for a specific area of expertise: the bizarre unit of measurement.

Do you know how many Smoots can be found on the Harvard Bridge? Or how many double-deckers were involved in the most recent sinkhole incident?

Do you have any idea what we measure using “slugs,” or the term for the smallest detectable movement a computer mouse can make? (Hint: it’s the name of a renowned cartoon mouse.)

Well, the answe is probably not, and neither does your quizmaster – but they’re bound to unearth it and quiz you on it one day soon.

Being forewarned is being forearmed, so take a look at this vivid infographic guide to obscure measurement names, and you’ll undoubtedly gain a few extra points at the next Tuesday night showdown!


1. What is a smoot?

A smoot is a unit of length equal to 5 feet 7 inches (1.7 meters). It was named after Oliver R. Smoot, who in 1958 was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Smoot and his fraternity brothers used his body to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge in Boston. They laid him repeatedly end to end, marking every fifth smoot with paint, until they had measured the entire bridge. The smoot became an official unit of measurement in 2011.

2. What is a banana equivalent dose?

The banana equivalent dose is a way of measuring radiation exposure. It is based on the fact that bananas contain a small amount of potassium-40, which is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope. One banana contains about 0.01 microsieverts of radiation. Therefore, the banana equivalent dose is the amount of radiation a person is exposed to by eating one banana. It is often used to explain radiation levels in a way that people can understand.

3. What is a beard-second?

A beard-second is a unit of length equal to the length an average beard grows in one second. It is approximately 5 nanometers, or 0.000000005 meters. The beard-second is not an official unit of measurement, but it is sometimes used in physics to explain the scale of subatomic particles.

4. What is a jiffy?

A jiffy is a unit of time equal to 1/100th of a second. It is commonly used in computer science and electronics. The term “jiffy” has also been used to refer to other short periods of time, such as the time it takes light to travel one centimeter in a vacuum.

5. What is a sheppey?

A sheppey is a unit of weight equal to 24 pounds (10.9 kilograms). It was originally used in the wool trade in England. The term “sheppey” comes from the Old English word for a sheep, which was the standard unit of weight for wool.

6. What is a barleycorn?

A barleycorn is a unit of length equal to one-third of an inch (0.8467 centimeters). It is commonly used in the measurement of shoe sizes. The size of a shoe is often expressed as the length of the foot in barleycorns.

7. What is a hogshead?

A hogshead is a unit of volume equal to 63 gallons (238 liters). It was originally used to measure wine and other alcoholic beverages. The term “hogshead” comes from the fact that the barrel used to hold the liquid was often made from the head of a pig.

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