10 Weird Units of Measurement to Confuse Yourself With

(Last Updated On: December 12, 2021)

You probably have had to learn both the imperial and metric systems of measurement at some point, because there are only three countries that don’t use the metric system. One of which is the USA, because that’s how Americans do. Maybe you’ve heard a British person refer to weight in terms of “stones,” without a real touchpoint on how much a “stone” is, because what does that even mean? Stones can be like… Any size nature wants them to be. Anyway, here are some other weird units of measurement to confuse yourself with.

Further Reading: Why Do We Have Both Metric and Imperial Systems?

1. Stone

One stone is equal to 14 pounds or 6.35 kilograms, and is used as a unit to describe mass. Stones are normally only used in the UK or Ireland to describe body weight. If you want to get really confused by stones, other countries in northern Europe had their own definition of what a stone was before people tried to standardize stuff. The stone used to range between 3 to 14 kilograms. 

Even in Britain things weren’t standard. In 1880 the stone ranged between 4 and 26 pounds depending on what town  you were in. 

2. Hundredweight

If you’re American, the hundredweight is also called the “short hundredweight,” and is equal to 100 pounds. This makes complete sense. 

If you’re a Brit, one hundredweight is more formally called the “long” or “imperial” hundredweight. It’s equal to 8 stones. Which is 112 pounds

3. Everything about horses

You know this if you’re into horse racing, where distance is measured in “horse lengths.” One horse length (or just length) is equal to 8 feet–the average length of a horse.

Except horses are measured in hands, because that’s how people measured the sizes of their horses before actually measuring things accurately was a thing (and presumably before people really internalized that we all have different sized hands). Anyway, this is still the standard now, except one hand is 4 inches. Sorry to anyone with a hand with literally any other length. 

4. Barn

Did you think a barn was a unit of measurement for farmhouses? You’d be kind of right, because a barn is a measure of area, which would be an applicable way to determine the size of your barn.

But think again, because barns are actually used to measure the area of an atom’s nucleus when studying nuclear physics. One barn is equal to 10^-28 square meters, and it is a metric unit. A microbarn (10^-34 square meters) is informally referred to as an “outhouse,” while a yoctobarn (10^-52 square meters) is referred to as a “shed.”

The origin of the barn is rooted in the Manhattan Project, when Americans needed a way to describe the cross-sectional area of a typical atomic nucleus in code. They settled on the idiom “couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,” since an atomic nucleus is considered a large target for a particle accelerator. 

5. Jiffy

The jiffy is used in computing, and is normally equal to 0.01 seconds. It measures the duration between interrupts (how often the system can interrupt whatever it is it’s doing).

6. The Big Mac Index

This isn’t a formally used unit of measurement, but it does have a Wikipedia page and it’s funny. The “Big Mac” as a unit is meant to conceptualise the difference in value between two currencies. For example if you’re American, you probably know how much a dollar is because you live in America. But if you were to go to Mexico without prior knowledge, you probably have no idea how much a peso is worth. You probably do know how much a Big Mac is worth though, so knowing how many pesos will buy you one will give you some idea of the peso’s purchasing power.

7. Nines

This is terrible when you say it out loud, because it means something can be “one nine.” 

Anyway nines are a measure of purity when it comes to precious metals. Something that is 90% pure is “one nine” pure and so on.

8. Butt

That’s right, you can measure things in terms of butts.

Butts are used to measure volume, specifically for alcoholic beverages, though it differs between different drinks. Probably because whoever came up with the idea to measure things in butts was super drunk. 

One butt of ale is about 130 gallons, while a butt of wine is about 151 gallons

So we guess the next time you or a friend says they had a “buttload” of something they had like 150 gallons of wine. 

Which is still a buttload.

9. Smidgen

A smidgen is a unit of measurement for cooking, which is 1/32 of one teaspoon.

One smidgen is half of a pinch, which is also a unit of measurement. This is something you probably see more often, because you have probably been asked to add a pinch of salt to something you made.

10. Megadeath

You might be wondering what would make your death more mega, but this unit is as straightforward as it reads. One megadeath is 1 million deaths, and is used to express casualties when discussing nuclear warfare. It makes sense when you remember “mega-” is a prefix in the metric system that means “one million.” For example a meter is one meter, but a megameter would be one million meters.

See if you can measure some other stuff here.



About Kyler 639 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and has just finished his undergraduate at the University of Washington. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019 and has accumulated so much random, general knowledge he'd rather not think about it. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.