Our founding fathers were Penny Wise. They created the world's first decimal currency.

Sadly, we remain Pound Foolish. The rest of the world uses simple metric systems of measurement, while we Americans continue to struggle with yards, pounds, and tablespoons.

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish. Time to wise up, America!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Taking the Measure of John Barleycorn

          If you like vegetable beef soup in a red and white can, you may have eaten barley. People all over the world bake barley bread and use barley to brew beer and ale. Lots of animal feed contains barley.
          But not many Americans know that every time they measure an inch or weigh an ounce, they are using a unit based on the barleycorn!

          Long ago, when civilization first began in the Fertile Crescent, barley was farmed along with wheat. Barley was even used as money. And because the grains were so uniform in size, barley was used as a unit of measure. People in Africa, in the Middle East, in Asia, and in Europe lined barley corns side-by-side or end-to-end and measured length. They counted barleycorns onto a balance and measured the weight of copper and silver and gold. The carat is based on the barleycorn!
          Noah probably even used barleycorns them when he measured short distances on his ark. In his part of the world, people used this system:
6 hairs of a camel or horse = 1 barleycorn
6 Barleycorn = 1 assbaa or finger
4 Assbaa = 1 Cabda or palm
8 Cabda = 1 Coudee or cubit
Noah built his ark 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits tall. That’s a lot of barleycorns!

          Eventually, 6-rowed barley made its way to England, and became the basis for the English system that is still used in America today:
·         3 grains of barley, lined up end-to-end, equals one inch
·         24 grains of barley weigh one Troy Ounce
Any time you use inches or ounces, you’re measuring in barleycorns!
A remarkably informative history of barley, written by Michael J. Ferrar, can be found at this link: http://www.cartographyunchained.com/pdfs/ms2_pdf.pdf
And some fascinating arguments about the length of Noah’s Ark can be found at http://www.worldwideflood.com/ark/noahs_cubit/which_cubit.pdf
John Barleycorn is an old English folksong. At first listen, it seems to be about a fellow who can’t be killed. But in reality, it’s about the amazing barleycorn which can be buried, and grows. Its stalks can be cut and flayed, but the seeds remain. The seeds can be ground on stone, and produce flour. And the mash can be brewed in a vat to make ale. Nothing you can do to barleycorn can kill its value to humankind!
I found this version online at http://mudcat.org/@displaysong.cfm?SongID=3228CLICK TO PLAY

There were three men come out of the west
Their fortunes for to try
And they have made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die (2x)

Fa la la la, it's a lovely day
Fa la la la lay o
Fa la la la, it's a lovely day
Sing fa la la la lay

They plowed him in three furrows deep
Laid clods all on his head
And they have made a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead

Well then there came a shower of rain
Which from the clouds did fall
John Barleycorn sprang up again
And so amazed them all

Well then came men with great sharp scythes
To cut him off at the knee
They bashed his head against a stone
And they used him barbarously

Well then came men with great long flails
To cut him skin from bone
The miller has used him worse than that
He ground him between two stones

They wheeled him here, they wheeled him there
Wheeled him into the barn
And they have used him worse than that
They bunged him in a vat

They worked their will upon John Barleycorn
But he lives to tell the tale
We pour him into an old brown jug
And we call him home-brewed ale

        Mighty invincible that Barleycorn. Quite a survivor. As he traveled across the world, he made himself indispensable.  Food, drink, units of length and weight. Quite a guy.

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