The Quick 10: 10 Obsolete Units of Measurement

Do you ever wonder if someday, things that we say and use every single day will be totally obsolete? I'm not talking technology—of course something bigger and better than the cell phone will eventually come along, and desktop computers are already practically becoming a thing of the past. I'm talking about things that seem unchangeable, like units of measurement. Can you imagine "inch" and "kilometer" being completely foreign words to your grandkids? It could happen—these 10 units of measurement certainly didn't stand the test of time, and maybe ours won't either.

1. The atom. Not the unit of matter—obviously we're still using that. The atom used to actually refer to time—the teeniest, tiniest unit of time, to be exact. In some medieval writings, the atom was referred to as 1/564 of a momentum, which is 15/94 of a second.

2. Dessiatin. In tsarist Russia, "dessiatin" referred to about 2.7 acres.

peck3. Peck. My grandma used to sing a song that went, "I love you, a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck." It was a long time before I figured out that what in the heck that meant—a bushel I knew, of course, but a peck? And "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers?" How much is that? It's an old type of dry measurement that equals out to about eight dry quarts. Two pecks make a kenning and four pecks equal a bushel. The term is still used from time to time, especially in agriculture (apples, specifically), but for the most part, you're not going to hear it in day-to-day conversation.
4. Hobbit. And it's not the size of a fictional clan of diminutive people with large, ugly feet, either. The Hobbit was a form of measurement used in Wales before the Winchester measure was introduced. The problem was, hobbits (or hobbets) seemed to differ based on what was being measured. One document shows that a hobbet of beans was 180 pounds, a hobbet of barley was 147 pounds, and a hobbet of wheat was 168 pounds.

5. League. Of course we all know 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but do you know what that's actually measuring? Me neither. Actually, it depends on where you were. In English, it usually meant about three miles. In ancient Rome, it meant about 1.5 miles. And in general, it referred to how far a person or horse could walk in an hour. Not very precise, was it?

6. A lot. From the middle ages to just about 100 years or so ago, if you said you had "A lot" of something, you were actually referring to a specific unit of measurement as opposed to a vague term meaning "many" like we use it today. A lot was a European unit of measurement meaning 1/30 or 1/32 of a pound, depending on the value of a local pound at the time.

7. Spat. A spat was equal to about one billion kilometers. One of the only places you would use a spat to measure something, of course, is in space. "Spat" actually comes from the Latin word "Spatium" "“ space.

8. Pood. Until it was declared obsolete in 1924, a pood was a unit of measurement that basically meant 40 Russian pounds. It's apparently still used occasionally for agriculture purposes. There's an old Russian saying that translates to, "You never know a man until you have eaten a pood of salt with him." Which"¦ ew.

9. Faggot. Scrabble and language aficionados probably already know that a faggot refers to a bundle of sticks, which is probably where the British slang word for cigarette came from. But long ago, it used to refer to a specific amount of sticks. One short faggot of sticks was a bundle that was about 2 feet wide by 32 inches long, one long faggot of sticks was about two feet wide and four feet long, and a faggot of iron was two feet wide by one foot long.

10. Poncelet. This was basically what "horsepower" was before metric horsepower came along. The Poncelet measured an amount of power "“ specifically, how much it took to get something that weighed 100 kilograms at the rate of one meter per second.

Are any of these actually still in use in your area of the world? I can't say I've heard any of them recently, except for literary references to "hobbit" and "league."

10 Sweet Facts About Candy Canes

The sweet and striped shepherd’s hooks can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season. It's time you learned a thing or two (or 10) about them.


While the origins of the candy cane are a bit murky, legend has it that they first appeared in hooked form around 1670. Candy sticks themselves were pretty common, but they really took shape when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany got the bright idea of twisting them to look like shepherd’s hooks. He then handed them out to kids during church services to keep them quiet.


It’s no surprise, then, that it was a German immigrant who introduced the custom to America. The first reference we can find to the tradition stateside is 1847, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decked his home out with the sugary fare.


Candy canes without the red don’t seem nearly as cheery, do they? But that’s how they were once made: all white. We’re not really sure who or exactly when the scarlet stripe was added, but we do know that images on cards before the 1900s show snow white canes.


Most candy canes are around five inches long, containing only about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol.


The world’s largest candy cane was built by Geneva, Illinois chef Alain Roby in 2012.  It was 51 feet long, required about 900 pounds of sugar, and was eventually smashed up with a hammer so people could take home a piece.


Fifty-four percent of kids suck on candy canes, compared to the 24 percent who just go right for the big crunch. As you may have been able to guess, of those surveyed, boys were nearly twice as likely to be crunchers.


According to the National Confectioners Association, about 1.2 billion candy canes are made annually, and 90 percent of those are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which honestly begs the question: Who’s buying the 10 percent in the off season?


Bobs (that’s right; no apostrophe) Candies was the first company to really hang its hat on the sweet, striped hook. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes for his kids in the 1920s, and they were such a hit he decided to start mass-producing them. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller (and his invention, the Keller Machine), McCormack was eventually able to churn out millions of candy canes a day.


December 26 is National Candy Cane Day. Go figure.


Here’s how they make candy canes at Disneyland—it’s a painstaking (and beautiful) technique.

10 Actors Who Hated Their Own Films

1. Sylvester Stallone, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Sly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his film career. Despite co-starring with the delightful Estelle Getty as the titular violence-prone mother, Stallone knows just how bad the film was:

"I made some truly awful movies. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was the worst. If you ever want someone to confess to murder, just make him or her sit through that film. They will confess to anything after 15 minutes."

2. Alec Guinness, Star Wars.

By the time he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Guinness had already appeared in cinematic classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations and Lawrence of Arabia. During production, Guinness is reported to have said the following:

"Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it's not an acting job, the dialogue - which is lamentable - keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young."

The insane amount of fame he won for the role as the wise old Jedi master took him somewhat by surprise and, ultimately, annoyed him. In his autobiography A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, Guinness recalls a time he encountered an autograph-seeking fan who boasted to him about having watched Star Wars more than 100 times. In response, Guinness agreed to provide the boy an autograph under the condition that he promise never to watch the film again.

3. Bob Hoskins, Super Mario Brothers. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. As far as I’m concerned, Bob Hoskins is forgiven for Super Mario Bros. Hoskins, though, doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself. Last year the Guardian spoke with the veteran actor about his career and he summed up his feelings rather succinctly:

What is the worst job you've done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn't do Super Mario Brothers.

4. George Clooney, Batman & Robin. Sure, Batman & Robin made money. But by every other imaginable measure, the film was a complete failure, and a nightmare to the vast majority of the Caped Crusader’s most fervent fanatics. Star George Clooney recognized what a stinker he helped create and once plainly stated, “I think we might have killed the franchise.”

5. David Cross, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. When actors have a movie out, it's customary that they publicize the film by saying nice things about it. Earlier this year David Cross took a different approach. When it came to describing his new film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the veteran comedian — better known for Mr. Show and Arrested Development — went on Conan and called the film a “big commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines” and told people not to go see it.

6. Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up. Judd Apatow’s unplanned pregnancy comedy was a huge hit and helped cement her status as a bankable film actress. After the film’s release, however, Heigl didn’t have all good things to say. In fact, what she specifically said about it was that the film was:

"…A little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”

7. Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games. The 2000 action film Reindeer Games starred Ben Affleck, Gary Sinese and Charlize Theron and was directed by John Frankenheimer. But it all somehow failed to come together. In the end the film lost a lot of money and compiled a wealth of negative reviews – including one from its star actress who simply said, “Reindeer Games was not a good movie.”

8. Mark Wahlberg, The Happening. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who lives his life afraid of trees. But that is the odd position M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening put him in. Wahlberg, as it turns out, doesn’t look back too fondly on the film. He went on record during a press conference for The Fighter when he described a conversation with a fellow actor:

"We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … alright “The Happening.” F*** it. It is what it is. F***ing trees, man. The plants. F*** it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook."

9. John Cusack, Better Off Dead. John Cusack reportedly hated his cult 80s comedy so much that he walked out of the screening and later told the film’s director Steve Holland that Better Off Dead was "the worst thing I have ever seen" and he would "never trust you as a director again."

10 Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music. The Sound of Music is considered a classic and has delighted many generations of fans. But the film's own lead actor, Christopher Plummer, didn't always sing its praises. Mr. Von Trapp himself declined to participate in a 2005 film reunion and, according to one acquaintance, has referred to the film as The Sound of Mucus.


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