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Many people have made use of, or invented, units of measurement intended primarily for their humour value. This is a list of such units invented by sources that are notable for reasons other than having made the unit itself, and of units that are widely known in the anglophone world for their humour value.
These units may or may not have precise objectively measurable values, but all of them measure quantities that have been defined within the International System of Units.
|furlong||length||660 ft||201.168 m|
|firkin||mass||90 lb||40.8233 kg|
|fortnight||time||14 days||1,209,600 s|
Most countries use the International System of Units (SI). In contrast, the humorous Furlong/Firkin/Fortnight system of units of measurement draws attention by being extremely old fashioned, and off-beat at the same time.
One furlong per fortnight is very nearly 1 centimetre per minute (to within 1 part in 400). Indeed, if the inch were defined as 2.54 cm rather than 2.54 cm exactly, it would be 1 cm/min. Besides having the meaning of "any obscure unit", furlongs per fortnight have also served frequently in the classroom as an example on how to reduce a unit's fraction. The speed of light may be expressed as being roughly 1.8 terafurlongs per fortnight.
In the Zork series of games, the Great Underground Empire had its own system of measurements, the most frequently referenced of which was the bloit. Defined as the distance the king's favorite pet could run in one hour (spoofing a popular legend about the history of the foot), the length of the bloit varied dramatically, but the one canonical conversion to real-world units puts it at approximately two-thirds of a mile (1 km). Liquid volume was measured in gloops, and temperature in degrees Q (57 °Q is said to be the freezing point of water).
In issue 33, Mad published a partial table of the "Potrzebie System of Weights and Measures", developed by 19-year-old Donald E. Knuth, later a famed computer scientist. According to Knuth, the basis of this new revolutionary system is the potrzebie, which equals the thickness of Mad issue 26, or 2.263348517438173216473 mm.
Volume was measured in ngogn (equal to 1000 cubic potrzebies), mass in blintz (equal to the mass of 1 ngogn of halva, which is "a form of pie [with] a specific gravity of 3.1416 and a specific heat of .31416"), and time in seven named units (decimal powers of the average earth rotation, equal to 1 "clarke"). The system also features such units as whatmeworry, cowznofski, vreeble, hoo, and hah.
According to the "Date" system in Knuth's article, which substitutes a 10-clarke "mingo" for a month and a 100-clarke "cowznofski", for a year, the date of October 29, 2007 is rendered as "To 1, 190 C. M." (for Cowznofsko Madi, or "in the Cowznofski of our MAD"). The dates are calculated from October 1, 1952, the date MAD was first published. Dates before this point are referred to (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) as "B.M." ("Before MAD.") The ten "Mingoes" are: Tales (Tal.) Calculated (Cal.) To (To) Drive (Dri.) You (You) Humor (Hum.) In (In) A (A) Jugular (Jug.) Vein (Vei.)
The beard-second is a unit of length inspired by the light-year, but used for extremely short distances such as those in integrated circuits. The beard-second is defined as the length an average beard grows in one second. Kemp Bennett Kolb defines the distance as exactly 100 angstroms (10 nanometers), as does Nordling and Österman's Physics Handbook. However, Google Calculator supports the beard-second for unit conversions using the value 5 nm.
One mickey per second is the smallest resolvable unit of measurement for the speed and direction that a computer mouse pointing device is moved. It is named after Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse cartoon character. Generally there are two measurements sent during a mouse movement, one for the horizontal axis and one for the vertical axis. Device sensitivity is usually specified in mickeys per inch.
A measure of distance equal to about 7⁄8 of a mile (1.4 km), defined as the closest distance at which sheep remain picturesque. The Sheppey is the creation of Douglas Adams and John Lloyd, included in The Meaning of Liff, their dictionary of putative meanings for words that are actually just place names. It is named after the Isle of Sheppey in the UK.
The smoot is a unit of length, defined as the height in 1958 of Oliver R. Smoot, who later became the Chairman of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and president of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The unit is used to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge. Canonically, and originally, in 1958 when Smoot was a Lambda Chi Alpha pledge at MIT (class of 1962), the bridge was measured to be 364.4 smoots, plus or minus one ear, using Mr. Smoot himself as a ruler. At the time, Smoot was 5 feet, 7 inches, or 170 cm, tall. Google Earth and Google Calculator include the smoot as a unit of measurement.
Supposedly, the Cambridge (Massachusetts) police department got into the convention of using Smoots to measure the locations of accidents and incidents on the bridge. When the original markings were removed or covered over during bridge maintenance, the police had to request that someone reapply the Smoot scale markings.
A barn is a serious unit of area used by nuclear physicists to quantify the scattering or absorption cross-section of very small particles, such as atomic nuclei. It is one of the very few units which are accepted to be used with SI units, and one of the most recent units to have been established (cf. the knot and the bar, other non-SI units acceptable in limited circumstances). One barn is equal to 1.0×10−28 m2. The name derives from the folk expression "Couldn't hit the broad side of a barn", used by particle accelerator physicists to refer to the difficulty of achieving a collision between particles. The outhouse (1.0×10−6 barns) and shed (1.0×10−24 barns) are derived by analogy.
This unit is similar in concept to the attoparsec, combining very large and small scales. When a barn (a very small unit of area used for measuring the cross sectional area of nuclei) is multiplied by a megaparsec (a very large unit of length used for measuring the distances between galaxies), the result is a human-scaled unit of volume approximately equal to 2⁄3 of a teaspoon (about 3 ml).
Similar to the aforementioned barn-megaparsec, the Hubble-barn uses the barn with the Hubble length, which is the length of the visible universe as derived by using the Hubble constant and the speed of light. This amounts to around 13.1 litres (3.46 US gallons, 2.88 Imperial gallons).
The Friedman is approximately six months, specifically six months in the future, and named after columnist Thomas Friedman who repeatedly used the span in reference to when a determination of Iraq's future could be surmised.
A jiffy is a unit of time used in computer operating systems, being the interval of time between system timer interrupts. This interval varies from system to system, but is typically between 1 and 10 milliseconds.
In the VAX/VMS operating system the parameter timepromptwait was specified in microfortnights.
In nuclear physics, a shake is 10 nanoseconds, the approximate time for a generation within a nuclear chain reaction. The term comes from the expression "two shakes of a lamb's tail", meaning quickly.
These units describe dimensions which are not and cannot be covered by the International System of Units.
|Rictus scale #||Richter scale equivalent||Media coverage|
|1||0–3||Small articles in local papers|
|2||3–5||Lead story on local news; mentioned on network news|
|3||5–6.5||Lead story on network news; wire-service photos appear in newspapers nationally; governor visits scene|
|4||6.5–7.5||Network correspondents sent to scene; president visits area; commemorative T-shirts appear|
|5||7.5+||Covers of weekly news magazines; network specials; "instant books" appear|
According to The Rebel Angels, a 1981 novel by Robertson Davies, this system was invented by Cambridge mathematician W.A.H. Rushton. However, the term was possibly first suggested by Isaac Asimov. The obvious reference is Marlowe's lines from the 1592 play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?"
The Catalogue of Ships from Book II of The Iliad, which describes in detail the commanders who came to fight for Helen and the ships they brought with them, details a total of 1,186 ships which came to fight the Trojan War. As such, Helen herself has a beauty rating of 1.186 helens, capable of launching more than one thousand ships.
Negative values have also been observed—these are measured by the number of ships sunk or the number of clocks stopped. An alternative interpretation of 1 negative helen is the amount of negative beauty (i.e. ugliness) that can beach a thousand ships.
David Goines has written a humorous article describing various Helen-units. It has a chart with the fire-lighting and ship-launching capability for different powers of "Helens". For example a picohelen (ph) (10−12 helens) indicates the amount of beauty that can "Barbecue a couple of Steaks & Toss an Inner Tube Into the Pool".
Thomas Fink, in The Man's Book, defines beauty both in terms of ships launched, and also in terms of the number of women than whom one woman will, on average, be more beautiful. One helen (H) is the quantity of beauty to be more beautiful than 50 million women, the number of women estimated to have been alive in the 12th century BC. Ten helena (Ha) is the beauty sufficient for one oarsman (of which 50 are on a ship) to risk his life, or be the most beautiful of a thousand women. Beauty is logarithmic on a base of 2. For beauty to increase by 1 Ha, a woman must be the most beautiful of twice as many women. One helen is 25.6 Ha. The most beautiful woman who ever lived would score 34.2 Ha, and 1.34 H, the pick of a dozen women would be 3.6 Ha, and 0.14 H.
The webcomic Irregular Webcomic! dedicated a strip to the helen unit of beauty, in which is stated that the millihelen should not be used, because metric prefixes should not be mixed with troy units.
The unit of bogosity, i.e. how bogus a person, claim, or proceeding is, derived from the fictional field of Quantum Bogodynamics, is the Lenat. The Lenat is seldom used, as it is understood that it is too large for normal conversation. Its most common form is the microLenat.
A MegaFonzie is a fictional unit of measurement of an object's coolness invented by Professor Farnsworth in the Futurama episode, "Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV." A 'Fonzie' is about the amount of coolness inherent in the Happy Days character Fonzie.
Lucy van Pelt is credited in the comic strip Peanuts to have discovered the axiom happiness is a warm puppy. The proposed SI unit of happiness, puppy, is derivable as the quantity of happiness that a one kilogram beagle puppy whose body temperature is 310 kelvins produces when held in skin contact for one second.
The Thaum is a measuring unit used in the Terry Pratchett series of Discworld novels to quantify magic. It equals the amount of mystical energy required to conjure up one small white pigeon, or three normal-sized billiard balls. It can, of course, be measured with a thaumometer, and regular SI prefixes apply (e.g. millithaum, kilothaum).
A thaumometer looks like a greenish glass cube with a dial on one side. A standard one is good for up to a million thaums — if there is more magic than that around, measuring it should not be your primary concern.
Parodying the introduction of the metric system later Discworld novels refer to the introduction of the newer unit Prime to avoid arguments around standard sizing of pigeons. It is more reliably defined as the magical energy required to move one pound of lead one foot.
It is not to be confused with the magical particle "thaum" from the same series of novels.
During WW2, scientists working for DMWD encountered a particularly obstructive British Naval Officer called Commander Pouter, for whom the unit of Obstruction was named, due to his implacable opposition to any work being carried out in the field for which he was personally responsible.
Subsequently, the micropouter was used, as it was hoped that no individual of a similarly difficult disposition would be encountered, and the pouter was too large a unit for everyday use.
Philosophers talking about Jeremy Bentham's Utilitarianism sometimes use the conceptual unit of the hedon to describe the amount of pleasure, equivalent to the amount of pleasure a person receives from gaining one util of utility. The converse unit of the hedon, used to measure pain or displeasure, is the dolor.
Also used simply as meaning 15 minutes; as the Warhol worm, that could infect all vulnerable machines on the entire Internet in 15 minutes or less.
The canard is a unit of quackery created by Andy Lewis in the need for a fractional fruitloopery index. It is proposed as an SI Unit to replace the old "Crackpot Index"  that was presented in 1998.
It scores on a scale from 0 to 10 the quantity of quackery used.
The Wheaton is a measurement of Twitter followers relative to celebrity Wil Wheaton. The measurement was standardized when Wil Wheaton achieved half a million Twitter followers, with the effect that Wil Wheaton now has 5.2 Wheatons himself (as of June 2014). As few Twitter users have millions of followers, the milliwheaton (500 followers) is more commonly used.
World Peace and Stability Index is a measure of stability and/or volatility of the world on a particular day. It is calculated as the "number of times CNN news channel repeats a tape". Zero indicates a turbulent world with a lot of disturbing events going on in various parts. A high value signifies there are not many major events and the world is mostly peaceful.
Basis: CNN is (in)famous for telecasting the same 5-minute recording more than hundred times a day. If, on a particular day, even CNN is unable to repeat the same tape twice, it would mean that there are so many ghastly activities going on in various parts of the world that there is no time available in which to repeat any tapes.