or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stool Sample

Last Sunday on CBC Television was a two-hour quiz called Test The Nation: Watch Your Language. We took it, and I can't speak for Jim's score (I'm sure he did very well, but he wouldn't tell me his after I told him mine), but I got 66 out of 70 questions right, a smug little 94%. One of the ones I got wrong was based on a nursery rhyme: Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet...what's a tuffet?

I thought it must be a sort of cushion. Isn't that what the presumably pampered and fearful little princess would be sitting on?

It turns out it's a padded stool. Fine. Whatever. (It's a variant of the word "tuft".)

But a tuffet also has another meaning, one you would never, ever guess. It's an Imperial unit of measure!

I have a Finnish co-worker who thinks that the Imperial measures we still use in Canada are ridiculous: we mostly use metric, but all kinds of Imperial and other non-metric measures still creep in--pounds and ounces, degrees Fahrenheit, feet and inches. She should be thrilled that we got rid of most of them: who nowadays knows that there are four quarters (each of 28 pounds) to the hundredweight? Or four roods to the acre?

It's completely daft, so random and British and made-up sounding, but a tuffet is one half of a bushel, or two pecks.

When we learned this, Jim and I started making up measures of our own. Twelve humplings to the quarterstaff! Six frigates to one hoopla! Fourteen overlords to the plectrum!

And really, you know, any of those sounds entirely plausible.


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