Nerds Share The Weirdest Types Of Measurements You've Probably Never Heard Of

Whether it's the English system of pounds, ounces, and inches or the metric system of kilograms, milliliters, and centimeters there are standard units of measure most of us know. But standard measurements were developed based on needs. Every profession and industry developed tools specific to their tasks and products.

Reddit user the_real_coinboy66 asked people to share these rarer weights and measures, asking "What's an obscure unit of measurement and how is it used?"

How many of these do you know?

Stones and Pebbles

I'm sure this has already been mentioned, but it's pretty funny that in the UK we use Stones to measure weight.

My wife, who is from the US, was particularly confused when she first heard this. She asked me what the excess stones were called (if, for example, you weighed 12.6 stones) and I said pebbles. It was obviously a joke, and I forgot I had even said it.

Months later I find out she's been telling a bunch people that in the UK we measure things in stones and pebbles like primitive medieval folk.

As an American, I still have no idea how much a stone is. But any time some one uses it, I immediately picture them as a gigantic burly Scottish man in a kilt

Space Horses

We understand it today, but horsepower is a pretty goofy method of quantifying work over time.

The Saturn V rocket had 111,744,000 horsepower in stage 1. source. Counting the power of rocket to go to the moon in horsepower just feels odd.

How Bright

I've also found (modern use of horsepower) odd. Similar to still using candles as a unit of luminous intensity,

Are you sure you don't have to go?


It is the distance a reindeer can walk without having to pee.


A Morgen.

It was approximately the amount of land tillable by one man behind an ox in the morning hours of a day. This was an official unit of measurement in South Africa until the 1970s.

Radioactive Bananas

Also weird? The Banana Equivalent Dose used for measuring ionizing radiation exposure.

What's barley got to do with it?

The Barleycorn, a third of an inch and used to measure shoe sizes. A size 7 is a barleycorn bigger than a size 6.

Original Video for your daily dose of mirth.

Who knew computer science was so tasty?

A nibble

1 nibble = 1/2 byte = 4 bits

Diminutive Death

A Micromort.

"A unit of risk defined as one-in-a-million chance of death." This is used surprisingly commonly to express danger.

Mindblowing barns

A barn is a measurement of probability equal to 10 e-24 cm2 . It's used to determine the likelihood of an atomic to subatomic particle colliding with an atom or other subatomic particle, and trigger a nuclear or similar size level reaction.

Tell me this is named after the idiom "hitting the broad side of a barn".

It absolutely is. There are smaller units called the shed and outhouse as well.

Smoot Operator

Smoots, to measure a bridge in america, near MIT.

1 Smoot = 1.7018 m OR 67 inches

A Smoot is defined as the height of Oliver Smoot at the time of his initiation into his fraternity at MIT. Smoot went on to be the head of the ISO later in life.

Faint Signals

Radio astronomer here! Let me all tell you about the jansky (Jy), which we use in absolutely everything in radio astronomy but you never hear of otherwise. It's basically a unit of spectral flux density, aka how bright a radio source is in the sky. It's named after Karl Jansky, a radio astronomy pioneer, which means if you have more than one jansky it's janskys instead of janskies, which always seemed odd to me.

Anywho, the reason we need our own unit in radio astronomy is stuff is so darn faint compared to other human made radio sources. How faint? Well a 100 Jy source is quite bright, so bright that there are maybe a dozen sources in the sky exceeding that. A cell phone on the other hand a kilometer away from you is on the order of 100 million Jy. This is why you should always turn off your cell phone when near a radio telescope!

For anyone really curious, 1 Jy = 10-26 W/(m2 *Hz).

Porcine Proportions

Hogshead used to measure liquids.

Yes, I'd like a Hogshead of your finest Ale, please...

Murphy's League

A league is roughly the distance a person can walk in an hour.

Related: While not an official unit of distance, my friends and I use a unit called the Murphy (from Murphy's Law). It's the distance you can travel within about 15 seconds of realizing the science experiment you were doing is about to try and kill you. You should have a table, potted plant, or other shield within 1 Murphy of any science experiment that might end with the utterance "F*!" -- or, more commonly, "Oops".

It's a relative unit because there's more than one way for a person to travel: Running is one example. Having an idling motorcycle nearby is another. And, very occasionally, explosions can propel a person at rather high speeds, either by concussive force or fear, which seems to add a few more legs to a person. We're not sure about the extra legs though -- nobody's looked down when measuring the Murphy unit yet. Or backwards for that matter.

FFF the System

Some engineers I used to hang out with had a contest with themselves to come up with the most useless unit of measurement, and decided that the measure of speed "Furlongs per fortnight" was tops.

A furlong/fortnight, for the record, is about 1 cm/min.

In the FFF system, heat transfer coefficients are conventionally reported as BTU per foot-fathom per degree Fahrenheit per fortnight.

A Dog's Distance

Another weird, Finnish one: peninkulma.

The distance a dog can be heard [barking] from.

10.688 kilometers. Finnish dogs would seem somewhat more vocal than their masters.

Butt Loads

There is a unit of measurement for liquids called a 'butt'.

"The 'butt' was a measure of liquid volume equaling two hogsheads or half of a tun. This equated to 108 imperial gallons (490 l) for ale or 126 imperial gallons (570 l) for wine (also known as a pipe), although the Oxford English Dictionary notes that "these standards were not always precisely adhered to"

Who came up with these names? Clearly half of a butt should be called a cheek.

But how do you get them to work?

Interestingly we also have Donkey power.

This facetious engineering unit is defined as 250 watts---about a third of a horsepower.

Slimy Measures

Slug, it's actually not that obscure compared to some of the stuff posted here. Really I just like the name.

1 slug is a mass that's accelerated by 1 ft/s when 1 lbf is exerted on it.

Beautiful Overachiever

The millihelen: The amount of beauty required to launch a single ship.

The bit I like is according to the Illiad, the Greeks launched 1,186 ships to attack Troy. So Helen herself is rated at 1.186 Helens.

I eat just about anything, but can't say I'm a fan of okra. Might it have to do with the way it is typically prepared, at least in my experience? It's slimy. It shouldn't be. It would probably taste better fried. But I have friends from the South who swear it is heaven on a plate.

But there's more than food that's disgusting. Like... why do people idolize Joe Exotic, the Tiger King? He's a sexual predator and a criminal. I know we all needed something to watch during lockdown, but damn. Don't tattoo his face on your body!

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"What's that one disgusting thing that everybody except you seems to like?"
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Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

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