Mental Floss

The Mickey, the Smoot and Other Unusual Units of Measurement

Ransom Riggs

Besides feet, gallons, kilometers and other such scientifically-accepted terms, there's a whole host of unscientific, colloquial units of measurement we use almost without thinking about it. How many times, for instance, have you heard something's height compared to the Empire State Building? Or been told that something was so many football fields long? This is a look at some of our more unusual units of what I call "folk" measurement -- some more widely used than others.
The mickey, for instance, was coined by computer scientists, and is defined as "the smallest detectable movement of a mouse cursor on a screen." The length of a mickey changes depending on the equipment being tested, but is generally about 0.1 millimeters.

Coined by writer Collen Murphy, a Warhol is a measurement of length of fame, and is, naturally, fifteen minutes. Murphy explains: "A thousand warhols could be a kilowarhol or, perhaps, a jewell, after Richard Jewell, the man who generated news reports for months despite having failed to participate in the bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. A milliwarhol, or about nine-tenths of a second of fame, might appropriately be named after the tyke whose rescue became a brief focus of attention last summer after he fell through the hole of an outhouse."

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The Pinkwater was coined by NPR hosts Click and Clack as a measurement of seating comfort. Named for writer Daniel Pinkwater, a 1.0 Pinkwater seat would be "pretty comfortable," whereas most car seats fall somewhere in the 0.7 Pinkwater range.