Measures familiar to us today, like inch, foot, yard, and mile, were commonly used as far back
as the 13th century. An inch, for example, was three barley corns from end to end.
Other measures are not so common any more, like handful, ell, pace, fathom, pole, and perch.
Some measures are no longer used at all. The words lingered for a while, then fell into an abyss of non-use, not to be heard again.
But let me put you on to one word - pottle. It means half gallon, the familiar size of plastic milk containers sold everywhere.
Pottle was abolished, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition. It doesn't say who abolished it or when.
Pottle did not fall into the abyss of non-use - it was kicked into it. Perhaps an English King didn't want it confused with bottle when glass bottles became popular.
The lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary tell us that words do not die easily. They say, "Our own words never become obsolete: It is always the words of our grandfathers that have died with them. Even after we cease to use a word, the memory of it survives, and the word itself survives as a possibility; it is only when no one is left to whom its use is still possible, that the word is wholly dead."
There is hope, then, for our word pottle. It is not wholly dead.
In 1639 an English consumer paid one penny for a pottle of milk. Today, a pottle of milk costs under 200 American pennies. So, I say, "Buy a pottle of milk!"
Pottle is a fun word. Let's pull it up from that abyss of non-use into which it was kicked.
Pottle sounds fun. It's as fun to say as, and belongs with, its cousins pint, quart, and gallon.
Pottle evokes something old and elfin - doesn't it - something from a forgotten age, quaint and essential.
Stand up for pottle. Abolished? Hogwash. Rebel.
Don't say half gallon any more. Say pottle. You'll have fun and raise some eyebrows.