Writing by foot



Few people realize that the word “way” comes in two different lengths. Articles like “Twelve Ways to Iron Cheese” or “Twelve Original but Disturbing Ways to Use Your Neti Pot” or “Twelve Ways to Remove Cheese from Your Neti Pot” proliferate on the web. Most people see no problem with this. I do.


The word “way” comes from Old English and means “road” or “path,” and when you travel on a road or path, you must use a system of measurement to determine the distance covered. Back in the day when the thirteen British colonies were not yet the thirteen American states, our former overlords introduced English units as the American system of measurement.  Both the British and the Americans measured by the length of the poppy seed, which was one fourth of a barleycorn. When they laid three barleycorn end to end, they had the equivalent of twelve poppy seeds, or one inch. Providing the wind wasn’t blowing, they could lay down 36 barleycorn (144 poppy seeds) and create a foot. They only needed to do that one more time to have two feet, which is all anybody needs to head down a road or path.


Poppy seeds (Steve Hurst @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS )


Of course, the British didn’t invent the foot. In the first century, when people finally started counting the years up instead of down, someone brought a Roman foot to Britain. Where the foot came from is anyone’s guess, so let me guess. Prior to the Romans, there doesn’t seem to have been a standard measurement for the foot. They must have realized how handy it would be to know exactly how far it was to the next village they planned to pillage. Counting footsteps would vary based on the size of the solider’s foot, so they needed a standard. And where else to find un unneeded foot than the battlefield. I haven’t yet discovered any record of how the foot was preserved, but that doesn’t prevent me from promoting my theory. At any rate, this foot was used for years and years, until the Anglo-Saxons brought over the North German foot, no doubt another war trophy from some unlucky foot soldier. In the 13th century, the foot became the accepted unit of measurement. Where did that foot come from? No one knows. At least not yet.  I’m working on it.


36 husked barley corns equals 8 inches.
(People either used unhusked barley, or they had smaller feet.)


Once you have a foot, you can leap to yard to mile, cover any distance you like, and begin to measure the “way” we started down at the beginning of this post.


When you speak of the “Twelve Ways to Cut Cheese,” you must move equidistantly from point to point, and in this case you should move quite far. You must use your feet to move, and sadly there are only a few places in the world you can still do that.


In the United Kingdom in 1824, the Imperial unit of measurement stuck its foot in the door, evicted the English unit of measurement, and became the standard throughout the Commonwealth and beyond. America has not been able to let go of England’s Imperial foot since then. We know all about the French and their fancy-pants metric system; we’ve seen their advertisements on the home shopping network and listened to their sales pitch. We’ve even bought a few signs from them and put them up on some of our highways for people who measure in French, but Americans have  put their foot down when it comes to becoming just another meter-made country.


So now you understand what I’m talking about when I say that “way” comes in two different lengths: Imperial and metric. For those who find this difficult to follow, here’s the short version:


  1. If a “way” is a road or path you travel by foot,
  2. And the Imperial system is the only one that allows you to use feet,
  3. Then, only those who use the Imperial system can go down that road and write about the “Twelve Way’s to Avoid Spelling Errors.”
  4.  Since one foot equals 0.3048 meters, people who use the metric system should write the “3.6 Ways to Avoid Spelling Erors.”


(Note to new readers: If you have any questions, or find fault with my logic, please feel free to contact any of the people who comment on my blog. I’m sure they would be happy to help you out. They know where the exits are.)