Mental Floss

The Wheaton and Other Unusual Units of Measurement

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Because sometimes feet and seconds just won't do.

1. The smoot

A smoot is exactly 5 feet, 7 inches—the height of MIT freshman Oliver Smoot in 1958 when he was used to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge between Boston and Cambridge. Smoot’s fraternity brothers determined the bridge was exactly 364.4 smoots long, plus one ear.

2. The Wheaton

It’s no surprise that the delightfully geeky actor Wil Wheaton was one of the first celebs to embrace Twitter, but he was also one of the first to attract a massive number of followers. When half a million people subscribed to his Tweets, that number was dubbed a Wheaton by John Kovalic. Today, the actor has over 1.8 million followers, but the Wheaton has remained 500,000—meaning that Wil Wheaton actually has about 3.6 Wheatons.

3. The beard-second

A beard-second is the average length a man’s beard grows in 1 second. However, experts disagree on what that length is. Some say 10 nanometers; others, including the Google calculator, say it’s 5.

4. The Helen

Helen of Troy’s magnificent mug is said to have launched 1,000 ships. But what if there’s just one ship that needs help getting out of port? Well, then you need a milliHelen. According to writer David Lance Goines and his Helen system of measurement, a picoHelen is the unit of beauty that inspires men to “barbecue a couple of steaks and toss an inner tube into the pool,” whereas a teraHelen has the potential to “launch the equivalent of 1,000 trillion Greek warships.”

5. The sheppey

A herd of sheep can be picturesque from a distance, but the closer you get, the dirtier and more matted the wool looks. Fortunately, writers Douglas Adams and John Lloyd, coauthors of the humorous dictionary The Meaning of Liff, have given us a way to measure that distance. A sheppey is how far you need to stay away from a group of sheep so that they resemble cute balls of fluff. One sheppey is equal to about 7/8 of a mile.