5 lesser-known distances

Before the more modern metre, people used a range of other measurements

Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

1. Furlong

This is an old English unit created to measure a standard length of ploughed furrow that could be cultivated by an ox without rest. The furlong is still used today to measure the distances run by racehorses.

1 furlong = 201.168 metres

2. Rod

Also known as a ‘perch’ or ‘pole’, the rod derives from the old English word ‘rodd’. Originally used for measuring out agricultural distances, it is still used today in horticulture, particularly to measure the size of allotments.

1 rod = 5.029 metres

3. League

The league has been used in many regions of the world, including ancient Rome, France and Spain. Introduced to England by the Normans, it was suggested to be the distance that could be walked in one hour.

1 league = approx 4.82km

4. Nautical mile

This measurement is used by seafarers. Imagine if the Earth was cut in half at the equator, revealing a 360-degree circle. Each degree can be split into 60 ‘minutes’, or arcs. Travelling on water for one minute of latitude covers a distance of one nautical mile.

1 nautical mile = 1,852 metres

5. Klick

A klick isn’t actually an unusual measurement – it’s just military slang for kilometre. It is said that the term derives from a form of measurement conducted during military treks, in which designated soldiers would count the paces of the troops, moving the gas regulator on their rifles back by one mark every 100 metres. After ten marks they would reset the regulator – indicating 1,000 metres – which would make a ‘click’ sound.

1 klick = 1 kilometre

This article was originally published in How It Works issue 117

For more science and technology articles, pick up the latest copy of How It Works from all good retailers or from our website now. If you have a tablet or smartphone, you can also download the digital version onto your iOS or Android device. To make sure you never miss an issue of How It Works magazine, subscribe today!