The evolution of the Imperial system produced measures of length and weight that were not only appropriate for practical everyday usage, but were also relative to the dimensions of the human body. Thus a man had an inbuilt set of approxiamate measures that could be used anywhere and anytime. Accurate measures could be determined with standard measures when needed. These include the following:

  • digit = 3/4 inch ( the width of a man's index finger at the top knuckle )
  • inch = 1/12 of a foot ( the width of a man's thumb1 )
  • palm = 3 inches ( the width of a man's palm at the bottom knuckle, excluding the thumb )
  • hand = 4 inches ( the width of a man's palm including the thumb2 )
  • span = 9 inches (from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger with fingers spread)
  • foot = 12 inches ( what most people have at the end of their legs )
  • yard = 3 feet (from tip of the nose to the tip of the middle finger with arm held out horizontally to the side )
  • fathom = 2 yards ( double the above, using both arms )
  • pound = 16 ounces ( originally 12 ounces and was retained in the Apothecaries and Troy pounds ) a weight comfortably held and lifted by a man

1. The word for inch in most european langauges is the same or a derivative of the word for thumb or vice versa.

  • French - pouce
  • Spanish - pulgar (thumb), pulgada (inch)
  • Danish - tommelfinger (thumb), tommer (inch)
  • Dutch - duim
  • Italian - pollice
  • Norwegian - tommel (thumb), tommers (inch)
  • Portuguese - polegar (thumb), polegada (inch)

2. Still used today for the height of horses