Expressing Measurements Via Analogies / Comparisons

LymeswoldSnork

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Quickly, back to measurements:

Some time ago I encountered the phrase "to knock nine bells out of", and realised that the bell must have been devalued and is now worth only seven-ninths of a shade of shit.

Why has no aficionado of Wales, double-decker buses and Olympic-sized swimming pools yet posted links to Wikipedia's lists of unusual or humorous units of measurement?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_unusual_units_of_measurement
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_humorous_units_of_measurement

And fans of the Twitter account of Reading's Museum of English Rural Life will understand why their social distancing signs are currently asking visitors to keep one absolute unit apart:

https://merl.reading.ac.uk/news-and-views/2018/04/history-behind-absolute-unit/
 
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Trevp666

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I was trying to find a thread in which to post about the often used method of measuring things by comparing them to other things.
(Mods - if such a thread exists and I have just been terrible at finding it, then sorry, feel free to move this!)
You know the sort of thing "The Eiffel Tower is the same height as 97 London Buses on top of each other and weighs the same as 7,000 Jumbo Jets".
You're still no wiser as to it's actual size, but the writers of such stuff think that the comparison to another known thing will help you to visualise the size.
I call these items 'Non-Standardised Units' (and often I have heard things sarcastically/jokingly described as 'the international standard' or 'international SI' etc)
Some TV programmes are particularly adept at using these, in fact they often seem to go out of their way to be as creative as possible with their comparisons, and also appear to have a rule that they are not allowed to use the same item for comparison twice in an episode.
A favourite of mine for this is 'Impossible Engineering' which, towards the end of an episode, can be tying itself in knots with it's search for a new, suitable, thing to compare sizes to!
The height of giraffes.
The volume of an Olympic swimming pool.
The size of a blue whale.
An area the size of Wales.
etc
etc

And the reason I was looking for such a thread is because I came across an item today that made me think of it.
In an article on the BBC News website today, about the Amazon Rainforest they mentioned that;
"Deforestation totalled 430 square kilometres (166 square miles) in January - an area more than seven times the size of Manhattan, New York."
Now, I know in my head roughly how big a kilometre is, and a mile, so the actual units of measurement are good enough, but the comparison with 'the size of Manhattan' as a 'Non-standardised Unit' is of no use to me whatsoever, and I dare say of no use to anyone really, except people who know the size of Manhattan.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-60333422
 

Trevp666

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Also, seeing as the Amazon Rainforest is approximately 6.7 million km², it seems the area is good for more than another 15,000 years.
Or the combined lifespans of about 150 Giant Tortoises.
 

Analogue Boy

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This thread title is like War and Peace.

Edit - Oh. I see it‘s been changed.
 
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EnolaGaia

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I was trying to find a thread in which to post about the often used method of measuring things by comparing them to other things.
(Mods - if such a thread exists and I have just been terrible at finding it, then sorry, feel free to move this!)

This subject has been mentioned (and / or illustrated) multiple times, but we had no thread dedicated to it. This new thread has been established to consolidate discussion about expressing measurements using analogies or comparisons.

The single most informative online item on this subject I know of is an article about the practice as a TV trope or cliché:
Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure

... No matter how huge something may be, it's hard to wrap your mind around the scale of it without seeing it for yourself, or having some point of reference to compare it to.

That's where this trope comes in. A simple way to show the size of something is to compare it to something else that a lot of people are familiar with. That's why many documentaries, especially ones of the "World's Biggest Whatever" variety, will use measurements that compare things to familiar or historic events, places, and objects.

Energy: Released by explosions and hurricanes: will be measured in atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima. When trying to be slightly more specific, they use "kilotons of TNT". Electricity will be measured in "enough to power Manhattan/the United States/the world for Y amount of time".

Height will be measured in Empire State Buildings, Eiffel Towers, Burj Khalifa, or Pyramids of Giza. Really big heights will be compared with Mt. Everest or any of the other famous mountains (Denali, K2, Anapurna, Matterhorn, etc).

Volume and concentration will be measured in Olympic swimming pools or olympic stadion.
In the United Kingdom, volume is sometimes measured in Albert Halls (and as The Beatles told us in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1 Albert Hall = 4000 Holes).

In Australia liquid volumes are sometimes measured in Sydharbs (the amount of water it would take to fill Sydney Harbour, or about 500 gigalitres).

The other type of volume is usually measured in terms of a rock concert, a chainsaw, a jet plane, or a gunshot.

Lengths will be measured in trips to the sun, times around the Earth's equator, or distance between the Earth and the Moon. The mean distance between the Earth and the Sun is used as an actual unit of measurement, the Astronomical Unit (AU). Smaller lengths (comparatively speaking) might be measured as the distance between two points, e.g. "Enough copper wiring to stretch from Chicago to Minneapolis".

Small lengths will be compared to the thickness of a human hair. Also acceptable is the head of a pin, as in how many of what can fit on one. Also acceptable: amount that can fit in the eye of a needle or point of a pencil. Another uncommon one is how many of something can fit inside a period. (The punctuation mark, you pervert.)

Medium-sized areas are measured in football fields or Walmarts. Large areas are usually measured in the UK as multiples of Wales, and in the US as multiples of Texas. Other regions commonly used include Switzerlands.

Weight will be measured in sacks of concrete, Boeing 747 jumbo jets, VW Beetles (for some reason, it's always VW Beetles or Mini Coopers), or large animals (usually elephants and whales, or sometimes both [the tongue of a blue whale could fit 3 elephants on it]). ...
... and many more.

FULL ARTICLE: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HiroshimaAsAUnitOfMeasure
 

EnolaGaia

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The modern use of such analogies / comparisons can be seen as a reversion to the original manner in which measurements were formalized. This 2010 research paper describes how ancient / traditional measurement systems based on comparisons have been supplanted by abstract systems that are precise but cause difficulties in expressing measurements casually.

The Career of Measurement
Kensy Cooperrider & Dedre Gentner
October 2019
Cognition 191(2):103942
DOI:10.1016/j.cognition.2019.04.011

Accessible at:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336183811_The_career_of_measurement
(Pre-publication manuscript)
 

Cochise

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And the reason I was looking for such a thread is because I came across an item today that made me think of it.
In an article on the BBC News website today, about the Amazon Rainforest they mentioned that;
"Deforestation totalled 430 square kilometres (166 square miles) in January - an area more than seven times the size of Manhattan, New York."
Now, I know in my head roughly how big a kilometre is, and a mile, so the actual units of measurement are good enough, but the comparison with 'the size of Manhattan' as a 'Non-standardised Unit' is of no use to me whatsoever, and I dare say of no use to anyone really, except people who know the size of Manhattan.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-60333422
Manhattan always struck me as surprisingly small when I saw it for real. There is of course a lot packed in to it.
 

Trevp666

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Manhattan land area is about 22.8 square miles, roughly the size of 8270 football pitches.
 

Tunn11

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My uncle got caught out by this a long time ago. They were on a ferry when his son asked how deep the water was. My uncle told him in feet but this meant nothing to my cousin (four at the time) He asked how many Brontosaurs standing on top of each other? My uncle did a quick estimate and told him eleven. My cousin thought for a while then asked. How far up the top Brontosaur would the water come?
 

Trevp666

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I hope he answered "Oh, about 2 triceratops high"
 

Bigphoot2

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A few comparisons from various editions of the Daily Express
Asteroid 2021 GM4 is a Goliath of near Earth asteroids, measuring in at a whopping 150 metres in length, making it much longer than a large football pitch (120m).

Monster space rock larger than Big Ben set to pass Earth next week

Asteroid bigger than Eiffel Tower could be visible as it passes Earth tomorrow

Space junk the size of Empire State Building leaves scientists on alert

 

Ulalume

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In Texas, it's football fields (of course). Not quite the same, but we also have a tendency to describe distance in terms of time. I've noticed some Australians do this, too.
 

EnolaGaia

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... Not quite the same, but we also have a tendency to describe distance in terms of time. I've noticed some Australians do this, too.

Yes - folks who drive the distance being described often quote it in terms of driving time rather than distance. I've done it for many years when citing distance to any site within two sets of destinations, each of which happens to cluster around the same number of miles.
 

Trevp666

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"Enough glass to cover 130 basketball courts" ('The Shard' in London)
 

Mythopoeika

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Yes - folks who drive the distance being described often quote it in terms of driving time rather than distance. I've done it for many years when citing distance to any site within two sets of destinations, each of which happens to cluster around the same number of miles.
I often end up doing that if I don't know the distance. People often ask me how far away from my Mum I am, I usually just quote the time.
 

Trevp666

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I guess that's how they arrived at the joke;
"What's the fastest way to get to Dublin?"
"Are you walking or driving?"
"Driving"
"Yep, that's the fastest way"

I heard someone describing the capacity of their car engine in terms of 'Coke cans' once.
"It's a 2 litre engine, which is about the same size as 6 cans of coke"

I also like the way we still describe power in terms of 'horses'. (My Kuga has 163bhp.)

You may have heard theories that one horsepower is the equivalent to one horse, and that’s kind of true — just not in the way you may expect.
Horsepower is actually a completely made-up measurement. Back in the late 1760s, steam engine pioneer James Watt wanted to compare the effectiveness of his engines against the horse that previously did their work.
Watt defined one horsepower as the equivalent of the energy expended by a single horse raising 33,000 pounds of water one foot in the air from the bottom of a 1,000 foot deep well in 60 seconds.
Granted, that’s not an easy thing to imagine, but it did allow Watt a way to easily market his steam engines to potential customers.
 

Trevp666

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Well you'd need to do a complex calculation of how many 1970s size curly-wurlys fit on a football pitch and then multiply that answer by 8270.
They were about an inch wide by about 10 inches long, and a football pitch varies in size so lets take an average of 110 yards x 75 yards.
So you could get 2700 across the pitch, by 396 along it, which would be 1,069,200 per pitch.
Times that by 8270 is 8,842,284,000 Curly Wurlys, in whichever way you would care to arrange them, end-to-end or side-by-side.
Or about the same as 6.2 times the population of China.
 

Trevp666

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Spaghetti Junction.
"Gravelly Hill Interchange" to give it it's correct name. Which passes over one of the many canals in Birmingham.
Birmingham has 35 miles of canals, which is said to be more than Venice.
Now if only there was some way of measuring canals with spaghetti.....
 

EnolaGaia

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I'm not sure I can picture that Trev. How many 1970's size Curly Wurly chocolate bars laid end to end would that be ?.

Oh FFS, Swifty ... :roll:

Everyone knows your standard unit of analogous measurement is the "Cromer Pier." :evillaugh:

Let's see ... According to Wikipedia one Cromer Pier = 495 feet (151 m).
 

Spookdaddy

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A few comparisons from various editions of the Daily Express

Given that the average Daily Express reader's brain seems to be a very handy standby when estimating a micrometre - it makes you wonder how long it takes that average Daily Express reader to actually imagine the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben.

I suspect something like the weight of Kangchenjunga in ounces to the power of 8, multiplied by the depth of Mariana Trench, plus two long lie downs to the power of an evening shouting at lampposts in your underwear.

And then you ask what the question was again.
 

Swifty

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Oh FFS, Swifty ... :roll:

Everyone knows your standard unit of analogous measurement is the "Cromer Pier." :evillaugh:

Let's see ... According to Wikipedia one Cromer Pier = 495 feet (151 m).
I wonder how many Cromer Piers it would take to get to the moon and back?.
 
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