Vail Valley Voices: Did you know? |

Vail Valley Voices: Did you know?

Butch Mazzuca
Vail, CO, Colorado


• An acre is the area a yoke of oxen could plow in one day, which is equal to an area of 43,560 square feet or 4,840 square yards.

• We know from our readings of the Old Testament that God gave Noah the measurements to use in building the ark in cubits. So what’s a cubit? A cubit is approximately 18 inches, or 45.72 centimeters. The length was derived from the distance between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger. The word comes from the Latin “cubitum,” for elbow.

• We all know what a chainlink fence is, but I thought we might examine those two words from a surveyor’s perspective rather than a suburbanite trying to fence in their dog. A “chain” is a surveying tool sometimes called a Gunter or surveyor’s chain. A chain measures 66 feet and equals one-tenth of a furlong and is divided into 100 parts called links. One mile is equal to 80 chains.

• A nautical mile is a unit of length that is about one minute of arc of latitude along any meridian, or about one minute of arc of longitude at the equator. By international agreement it is exactly 1,852 meters (approximately 6,076 feet). So when aviators or seamen refer to a “knot,” they’re referring to a speed equal to 1 nautical mile per hour. Additionally, the term itself was derived from the old sailor’s practice of throwing a knotted rope over the side of the ship. The number of knots that were fed out in a specific period of time determined the ship’s speed. The knotted rope was weighted at the end with a piece of wood, which happens to be the source of the term ship’s log, in which the ship’s speed, position and other pertinent information were recorded.

• Speaking of speed, you can’t get much faster than the speed of light (186,281.7 miles per second) unless you’re aboard the Starship Enterprise entering warp. We’ve all heard the term light-year, which is the distance light will travel in a vacuum in one year. But to provide a better perspective of this unit of measurement, traveling at the speed of light the Federation Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701) will travel 5,880,000,000,000 miles (that’s almost 6 trillion miles) in a year. Kind of gives us a perspective of how large a number a trillion is.

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• But the distances in space are so great that scientists have come up with another term to describe them: the parsec. The term is a combination of parallax and second (you thought Gene Rodenberry created this term for his TV series, didn’t you?) and represents 3.26 light years, or almost 18,000,000,000,000 miles.

Old sayings

• In medieval times, most weddings occurred in June because people took their baths in May. It’s also believed that the reason bouquets became popular among brides is that it hid the woman’s body odor.

• “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” also has an oblique reference to hygiene in the Middle Ages. Time was when the entire family would bathe using one big tub of water. Being a chauvinistic society, the men naturally bathed first, then the sons, then the women, then the daughters and finally the young children with babies always being last. By the time it was the baby’s turn, the water was usually so dirty you could actually lose the infant in it, hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

• In the 1500s, most of the wealthy Europeans had slate floors, while the commoners had dirt floors, which was the genesis of the saying “dirt poor.”

• People in the 1500s also ate pork only on special occasions. When friends would come to visit, the man of the house would show off by hanging the bacon for everyone to see. The bacon was both a sign of affluence and evidence that the man of the house could “bring home the bacon.”

• Then when guests came over, they would cut off a piece to share with them and would sit around and “chew the fat.”

• Ever wonder where the expression “it’s raining cats and dogs” came from? Back in the day, most homes had thatched roofs and dogs, cats, mice and bugs lived in the thatch to keep themselves warm. However, when it rained, the thatch became slippery and, well, you can figure out the rest.

• What exactly is a baker’s dozen, and how did that name come about? In olden times, bakers incurred a heavy fine for shorting their customers, so to avoid incurring the wrath of the local magistrate, they would add an extra loaf, bun or roll as insurance, thus bringing the total to 13.

Quote of the day: “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.” – Franklin Pierce Adams.

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@