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From: matthew.malthouse@guardian.co.uk
Subject: Re: (whorl) OBW: a minor mystery
Date: Mon, 24 Jul 2000 10:02:24 +0100

On 24/07/2000 03:59:24 William Ansley  wrote:

>I have just finished IGJ. Although I hadn't intended to, I re-read
>OBW in its entirety first. I certainly noticed several things that I
>hadn't the first two times I read it but one trivial point stuck in
>my mind. I am going into great depth about this point, even though I
>say it is trivial because Wolfe must have had something definite in
>mind here and it seems as if it is possible to figure it out, to some
>degree, at least.
>It is a matter of the units of measure Horn mentions in OBW. The most
>common unit mentioned is the "hand". I did a little horseback riding
>long go and seemed to recall that that a hand was 4 inches (10.16
>cm). Webster's Third International Dictionary confirmed this and
>didn't reveal any other measurements associated with hand. Horn also
>uses cubit as a measurement frequently. According to the dictionary
>(and my own memory) the historical length of a cubit is uncertain but
>it is generally agreed to have been about 18 inches (45.72 cm).
>The problem I have with this is that the way Horn uses hand it seems
>as if it must be a unit closer to 8 inches (20.32 cm). Otherwise
>certain passages in OBW don't seem to make sense. For example (I have
>added my own notes in square brackets):
>Now all the units of measure used by Horn are based on the lengths of
>parts of the body. A 'finger' is probably the width of a finger,
>between 0.5 (1.27 cm) and 1 inch (2.54 cm). A cubit is the length
>from the elbow to the tip of the longest outstretched fingertip (18
>inches). A traditional hand is the width of the palm of the hand (4
>inches). But perhaps Wolfe is thinking of the distance from the tip
>of the thumb to the tip of the pinkie when the fingers are spread as
>far as possible. This is traditionally known as a "span" and is
>traditionally 9 inches (22.86 cm). Or perhaps Wolfe version of 'hand'
>is measured from the base of the hand the the tip of the middle
>finger (which might well come to between 7 and 8 inches).

A "hand" could plausibly be the length from heel to fingertip - in my case 7
inches or alternatively the span from thumb to little finger-tip 9 inches.


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