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From: "Fernando Q. Gouvea" <fqgouvea@colby.edu>
Subject: Re: (whorl) OBW: a minor mystery
Date: Mon, 24 Jul 2000 09:07:54 

**** On Sun, 23 Jul 2000 22:59:24 -0400, William Ansley <wansley@warwick.net> said:

WA> Now all the units of measure used by Horn are based on the lengths of
WA> parts of the body. A 'finger' is probably the width of a finger,
WA> between 0.5 (1.27 cm) and 1 inch (2.54 cm). A cubit is the length from
WA> the elbow to the tip of the longest outstretched fingertip (18
WA> inches). A traditional hand is the width of the palm of the hand (4
WA> inches). But perhaps Wolfe is thinking of the distance from the tip of
WA> the thumb to the tip of the pinkie when the fingers are spread as far
WA> as possible. This is traditionally known as a "span" and is
WA> traditionally 9 inches (22.86 cm). Or perhaps Wolfe version of 'hand'
WA> is measured from the base of the hand the the tip of the middle finger
WA> (which might well come to between 7 and 8 inches).

I had been assuming that a "hand" was what you call a "span", sort of
unconsciously, I guess because the common measure in Brazil (called "um
palmo") assumes the outstretched hand. The measurements do seem to make
more sense if we take a hand to mean the outstretched hand, though the
other option, from the heel of the hand to the tip of the fingers, would
also seem to give reasonable values.

WA> Another thing we need to know before we can reach any definite
WA> conclusions is whether the units of measure Horn is using are standard
WA> (like current English units such as the foot) or not. In the latter
WA> case, each person would use his or her own foot to measure out a
WA> length, to continue with the same example.

I think we can be pretty certain that they are not standard, at least as
used in everyday talk. Standardization would imply measuring devices, which
I don't think we've seen at all. So we should take all these measurements
as approximate.



Fernando Q. Gouvea                      
Department of Mathematics               Editor, FOCUS and MAA Online
Colby College                           http://www.maa.org
Waterville, ME 04901
fqgouvea@colby.edu                      http://www.colby.edu/math

Nihilism should commence with oneself.

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