Plus or Minus an Ear

Leon, a listener from KUNR in Truckee, CA, strumbled upon a word he had to share:

The Google Earth measurement tool contained a most unusual term for a unit of measurement, “smoots.” This led me immediately to Wikipedia for a definition. This word is the first I have encountered with the second thought (after what does it mean) this is a great word for Says You!

Richard used “smoot” in two rounds on measurement, once in season eight and again in season twelve. In 1958, Oliver R. Smoot, the shortest of that year’s Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity pledges, was used to measure the Harvard Bridge between Boston and Cambridge. Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity members remember the prank by marking the bridge in smoots every year. It’s become such a staple that when the bridge was renovated in 2014 concrete slabs were scored in smoots and the light posts were spread 30 smoots apart.

4 replies
  1. Raymond Lockley
    Raymond Lockley says:

    This brings back fond memories from Boston. In addition to the annual discussion of the bridge length, I also remember being tasked as a young programmer to write a module which, while focused in Imperial-metric, would convert “all possible” measures–so, naturally, amongst the the available units of distance were smoots, and I also included other vital options such as converting speed to furlongs per fortnight.

  2. Evelyn
    Evelyn says:

    Those of us from the Boston area are likely familiar with Smoots. I think that the markings are on the bridge, having been repainted when the bridge was repaired. But, since I don’t walk on that bridge, I don’t know for sure…..

    • Ian D Osmond
      Ian D Osmond says:

      Smoot’s old fraternity maintains the markings, whether or not the Cambridge or Boston police want them too or not.

  3. Ed Foster
    Ed Foster says:

    To add a little irony to this tale, Oliver Smoot became Chairman of the American National Standards Institute and President of the International Organization for Standardization.


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