Furlongs per Fortnight
Furlongs per fortnight is an expression used in (at least) engineering when one is confronted by parameters expressed in unfamiliar terms. Furlong is also a very standard measurement in the world of horse racing but unfamiliar to the average person.
Here is a down-to-earth example of another unfamiliar set measurement parameters. Eggs are sold by the dozen, but they are actually priced by the pound. Farmers or egg sorting machines separate eggs into sizes we call small, medium, large, extra large and jumbo.
On the farm where I grew up we packed eggs into layers of 36, in an egg crate which held two stacks of 5 layers or 30 dozens. (see details) A dozen large eggs weighs 24 oz or 1.5 lb. So the case weight is approximately 45 lbs. The vast majority of egg consumers wouldn't have a notion of what you were talking about if you were to say that eggs had just gone up by $1.50 per crate or $0.033 per pound, when the price per dozen had increased from $1.20 to $1.25. Of course they also would have no reason to care! For more on eggs check here, or try the British Egg Information Service. Note that the British have only recently adopted the same egg size standard as we use in the U.S.
What are Furlongs and Fortnights?
Here is what a furlong per fortnight (f/f) represents in more familiar terms:
Now, this velocity is pretty close to a snail's pace. Actually I just went outside and "clocked" one of those brown garden snails at close to 6 inches per minute. Let's call this the Average Snail's Pace (ASP). That's 15 f/f, and if the snail ever had a reason to go a furlong, it would only take him .917 days, or 22 hours.
In the same vein, with a snail's pace being just about within an order of magnitude of f/f, we could reasonably define f/f as approximately 0.06 ASP. This could also bring 'snail's pace' out of the realm of being a simple idiomatic expression and give it a place in the world of rule of thumb.
How useful is this information? I believe that the knowledge of such an expression as 'furlongs per fortnight' is extremely useful when you are confronted by a situation in which you are uncertain of the measurement parameters. When I hear 'f/f' from someone I know he is trying to define his units to solve a problem. In actual use it is certainly as precise a measurement as centimeters per second, but no one cares. We don't use it as a measurement but as a "in" way of saying "more information needed."
Based on the extensive web search I performed I might also be the only person who has ever brought f/f into the realm of everyday "stuff" by associating the heretofore humorous expression with an everyday, observable phenomenon. I can see the headlines now: "California Man Creates New Standard."
Some links and comments:
note All of this packaging information came not from my fuzzy memory, but from looking at pictures in a National Geographic article, "America's Debt to the Hen", Vol LI, Number Four, April 1927, page 453. And no, I did not have a subscription to the National Geographic in 1927!
The image below was sent by Bob Skinner in response to seeing my page. Discrimination at high levels?
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