Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Can You Drown in a Fathom?

I think that most people would say that you could easily drown in a fathom of water but how many of you know how deep a fathom actually is. I would have said that it was at least 10 metres. In a totally unscientific survey one other person suggested a depth of about 30 metres. A fathom is actually the width of a man's outstretched arms. Also the depth of water in which it's too deep for most of us to stand on the bottom without drowning. That definition comes from a brilliant little book I got for Christmas called About the Size Of It: The Common Sense Approach to Measuring Things by Warwick Cairns.

About The Size Of It is a short book, the spine is about a barleycorn wide, but it packs in a full, from the ground up, definition of all our main units of measurements. Not the boring SI units (although they do make a brief appearance so that they can be rightfully mocked) but rather those measures that we use in everyday life and have survived for generations as they make the most sense in everyday tasks -- like buying fruit!

My Rating: 5 Stars The writing style is informative and highly enjoyable. I could easily see a slightly expanded version as the Royal Societies Christmas Lectures it is that informative and entertaining.
21 January 2009 at 11:33 , Graham said...

The definition of a fathom when I were a lad (and thus presumably still so) was 6 feet (which would be 1.83 metres in today's parlance). It is a measure of water depth and marine charts were (are?) measured in fathoms. 6 feet is roughly the height of a man. A person's arm's span is roughly equal to that person's height. Ergo a fathom is roughly equal to the width of a man's outstretched arms. However I wouldn't want to be the man used for measuring the depth of the sea.

21 January 2009 at 12:48 , Mark said...

I wouldn't have fancied being the official smoot either, although at least I would have stayed dry!

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