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.)

35 thoughts on “Writing by foot

  1. I had trouble reading most of the post because my eyes were filled with tears and my breathing was labored as a result of the HILARIOUS first paragraph! Dear lord, dear YS, you are a dangerous weapon! But with all that cheese, you set me up to expect that “way” comes in different lengths: way, weigh, and whey…. And so it does.

  2. I know they’re people who laughed as they read this wondrous treatise on letting us count the ways. And I won’t deny that I read your post with a smile on my face throughout… and don’t think that this was a coincidence. But most of all, it was a learning experience for me. I immediately grabbed some barleycorns, and started imagining where they could lead to. And as a favor in return (for the enlightening experience of reading your article), I thought I’d mention… that we Hebes still measure most of the world in ‘arms’. Though recently (since that French revolution that drove us all a bit crazy, but encouraged considerations of ‘human rights’ as well), more and more Hebrew speakers have accepted the metered measure.

    • What is an “arm” in the metric system? I have to learn more about that.

      When I was researching about barley corn, I found out it is still the measurement we use in the U.S. (and U.K., I think) for shoes.

      • It is a very ancient measure, which was used in Egypt as well as in Israel around 3500 years ago, and continued to be the official measure till 1947, when the meter gained popularity. This of course, allowed for variations to develop. There is the short arm and the long arm (as in the ‘long arm of the law’) The short arm is 48cm, and the long arm is 56cm. But the ‘arm that was used for the textile industries measures in at 67.76cm, and there is still another arm, used to measure land, which is 75.8cm. This last arm was also known as a ‘step’. Hope I haven’t worn out your patience, my dear yearstricken.

  3. It is so ridiculously entertaining to see your brain spinning this way and that, and taking a simple thing, and making it … well, simple, and looping it around to complex, and then back to simple again. Your “Note To New Readers” had me practically wiping the tears from my eyes, and blowing my nose at the same time. Minus the neti pot. You amaze me. You pull smiles from unsmiling faces. With such a deft hand (or foot).

    You simply have a way with words.

    p.s. to any new readers: She was referring to the people who commented on her blog above this comment, of course. I’m just here for the side show.

  4. you have a way with words and history seems to be in your side… btw, did you have to use the right or the left foot to write this one? 😉 it’s quite funny and I wonder if the Imperial units would be chasing after you now, lol. please take care, ms. yearstricken… 🙂

    • I always write by foot. I know the metric system because I lived overseas a number of years, but I still think in Imperial units, and I’m still tied to all of the idioms based on it.

  5. Unfortunately at the moment due to an injured hand I am unable to iron my cheese! Thanks for the entertaining post. I am attached to the imperial system even though we are official metric here. It makes everything seem such a long *way* *away* now that the road signs show distances in km.

  6. Bushel, peck or hectare – I’m seriously in need of Depends. SO very funny. More sparkling evidence for your committal hearing! But don’t worry, I checked into the same facility a long time ago and can attest to the fact that the water’s fine. You dress up the joint. See you at dinner time. Dan

  7. I think this is a post about exactly why I am math challenged. But I’m not quite sure. That said, I lived in Europe for 5 years and never got the hang of the metric system, either. Sigh.

  8. You are inspirational as usual. I hope someday to be able to write somewhere in the vicinity of as well as you do (I’m sure I shall never be as good). You obviously have a love affair with words and meanings. I’m almost jealous, but it’s such a pleasure to learn from you, so…

    • I think all of us in bloggonia have this love affair with words. We all have something to say. You can reach people I can’t; that’s why we need to hear people’s voices.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s