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Unusual Measurements of Quantity and Distance

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Joseph in Houma, Louisiana, serves in the Coast Guard, shares a story about asking for directions when he was en route to an oil spill deep in Cajun Country. A local crawfisherman told him to go down the turning, twisting bayou for about four eyesights — in other words, go “as far as the eye can see, then from that point keep traveling as far as you can see, then do the same thing again, and then once more.” Years ago, a listener called this show to say that when he was West Virginia, a local resident advised him that his destination was six farsees away. In another instance, someone in Pennsylvania Dutch country was told to go two farsights, turn right, one go down, cross to a tree, and a right smart piece beyond. Approximate measurements in English include describing mud that is shoemouth deep or water that is straddle deep. Among loggers, an object might be described as axe-handle length, shorter than a hoop and a holler. A fathom was originally “the length of a man’s outstretched arms,” or “about six feet,” which also gave rise to the verb to fathom, meaning metaphorically “to get one’s arms around.” The mining term double-fist refers to a lump of coal approximately the size of two adjacent fists, also known as a cobble. The words gowpen and yepsen both mean “the amount that can be held in two hands cupped together.” This is part of a complete episode.

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