(Roughly) Daily

The measure of things…

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…

More on the Potrzebie system, and other merry metrics, at “List of humorous units of measurement.”  (Though, as GMSV observes the list doesn’t [yet] include “The Kardashian.”)

As we trade in our tape measures, we might recall that it was on this date in 1889, that the word “hamburger” appeared for the first time in print (in the Walla Walla Union, a Walla Walla, Washington, newspaper– per the Oxford English Dictionary).  In the 19th century, German immigrants migrated to North America bringing along the recipe for the hamburg steak (i.e., “from Hamburg”), a form of pounded beef.  Americans adopted the dish, but used the adjectival form “hamburger” to describe it.  It’s a measure of the pounded patty’s prompt popularity that “hamburger” appeared as an entry in 1902 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.


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