The Top 10: Units of Measurement

Elephants, double-decker buses and areas the size of Wales: a compilation of journalistic comparisons

John Rentoul@JohnRentoul
Friday 06 September 2019 20:52
The scale of a political crisis is measured by the number of media gazebos on College Green
The scale of a political crisis is measured by the number of media gazebos on College Green

This list started when Zetetic Elench found a US news report that said: “A sinkhole roughly the size of six to seven washing machines has closed the northbound lanes of State Line Road in Kansas City, Missouri.”

1. Length: London buses (nominated by Patrick Walsh).

2. Height: Empire State Building, Nelson’s Column, Eiffel Tower, depending on the nationality of the reader (Peter Elliott).

3. Weight: bags of sugar; elephants.

4. Volume: London buses (again). “Asteroid the size of a double-decker bus flies past Earth,” Daily Express, 2014 (thanks to Paul T Horgan). Or Olympic swimming pools (Richard Grant). Teri Walsh tried to get around the No Beatles rule by asking how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.

5. Area: football pitches, or, for larger areas, Wales, “perhaps because it is a bit squarish”, said Paul T Horgan. Or Belgium, or, for Americans, Rhode Island (Clyde Davies), although no normal person has any idea how big any of them is (21,000, 31,000 and 3,000 square km respectively).

6. Beauty: if Helen of Troy’s face could launch a thousand ships, a millihelen is the beauty required to launch one ship (Peter Elliott again).

7. Distance. Peninkulma, Finnish: the distance a barking dog can be heard in still air (about six miles). A biscuit toss: a close distance at sea, as in the boast of the captain who declared he could sail “within a biscuit toss” of the Needles, and failed (Graham Fildes).

8. Number of words. The Gettysburg Address, 282 words, is the standard unit for measuring minor legislation or regulations. A shorter measure is the Lord’s Prayer, 70 words. (Thanks to Andrew Graystone.) An even shorter one is an old tweet (140 characters), but that has gone the way of shillings and pence (Steven Richards).

9. Level of political crisis. Number of media gazebos on Abingdon Green outside parliament. This week matched the all-time record of 28 (Sebastian Payne).

10. Time. Scaramuccis. Anthony Scaramucci served as the White House director of communications for 11 days, 21-31 July 2017 (Patti O’Brien).

No room, therefore, for speed, which is traditionally measured in relation to the velocity of a sheep in a vacuum, according to Tom Joyce, who cited an important article on The Register, which also discussed the volume of Wales in cubic furlongs.

Next week: Jobs held by ex-prime ministers, after David Cameron, whose book is out this month, denied he wanted to come back as foreign secretary.

Coming soon: Ideas to control the weather, after Donald Trump suggested nuking a hurricane.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

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