Measure This

Grayson Highlands


July 2011 & July 2014

While staring at the ponies who live in the Grayson Highlands, we thought about their size, among other things.  (See

People are this many feet and that many inches tall.  Willie Nelson is five feet six inches tall.  Neil deGrasse Tyson is six feet two inches tall.

Horses are measured in hands, one hand being equal to four inches.

Whirlaway was 15.3 tall which is how we write “Whirlaway was fifteen hands, three inches tall.”  (Whirlaway was a horse.)  If Whirlaway were a person, he would be sixty-three inches tall, or five feet three inches tall.  Man o’ War was 15.2.

How do you measure a person?  From the ground up to the top of the head, or in the case of Dolly Parton, to the top of her head and don’t get fooled by her hair.

How do you measure a horse?  From the ground up to the withers.  The withers is the top of their shoulders.  Their heads are higher, but so what.

Unless you hang around with horses, you are unlikely to use hand as a measurement.  You will use hand to refer to that thing at the end of your arm.  For many of us then, hand would be an unusual measurement.

Behold some other peculiar measurements…


measured by Avogadro’s number, which is 6.02214076 × 1023.


measure of electric current


measurement of time

the Sagan

Named for Carl Sagan, famous for, among other things, uttering the phrase, “billions and billions.”  One Sagan is defined as a very large quantity of things.

the Sheppey

Named for the English Isle of Sheppey, it measures a distance equal to about 7/8 of a mile.  This is the closest distance at which sheep remain picturesque.

the microcentury

Equivalent to 52 minutes and 35.76 seconds, it is the unit of measurement mathematician John von Neumann defined as the maximum length of time a lecture should be.

the milliHelen

We know Helen of Troy for her beauty.  She had the “face that launched a thousand ships.”  One milliHelen therefore is the amount of beauty required to launch one ship.

the Fonzie

A measurement of coolness.

These measurements are not the product of my imagination.  Rather, I reprint them from other sources.  I’m funny, but not this funny.

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