STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS SATURDAY: A knotty problem

Another Saturday, another Stream of Consciousness entry, hosted by Linda Hill. She has the rules, if you’d like to play along.

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Today’s prompt: naught/knot/not

I hear knots and I think of two kinds of knots, the ones you tie and the one that you hear in aviation and maritime weather forecasts. I was interested in both as a kid.

My aunt Jill, who was also my godmother, was the one who took me to the library the first time. One of the books I picked was about seamanship, because it had boats in it and I liked boats because they reminded me of Mike Nelson on “Sea Hunt.” There was this whole section on tying knots, and that excited me. Jill let me have some yarn (it was more like rope) and I set about learning to tie the knots. I learned the square knot, the sheet bend, and then I had to bring the book back.

When I was in eighth grade, I was a Webelos scout; that was a transition between Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I had to learn how to tie all kinds of knots: the clove hitch, the bowline, the two half-hitches, the taut-line hitch (if you tied that one right, you could slide it back and forth on the rope), and my old friends the clove hitch and the square knot. By the end of 8th grade, I earned my Lion badge, my Arrow of Light (the badge certifying that I had graduated from the Cub Scouts), and had passed the test for my Tenderfoot badge in the Boy Scouts.

Then, nothing. By that time, I was pretty tired of Scouts. I remember I lost my Boy Scout Handbook at some point during the year, and really didn’t care about it. It was really kind of creepy, anyway. I got a job at the parish rectory when I graduated eighth grade, and one night when there wasn’t anything to do I went through the parish lost & found. Right on top was my Boy Scout Handbook. Had my name stenciled on the first page and everything. I didn’t bother to take it home. Like I said, I was pretty sick of Scouts. So, that was that. I’ll bet the book is still there, too, over 45 years later.

Anyway, I was always into weather, and read not just the local forecasts, but the boating and aviation forecasts. They would say things like “northeast winds, 10 to 20 knots.” Originally I thought it was an actual rope, with knots tied into it. (That was how they would measure water depth on the Mississippi River back in Sam Clemens’ day. One day someone was measuring the water depth and called out, “mark twain!” And Sam Clemens had his pen name.) Finally I looked it up, and learned that a knot is a nautical mile per hour. Later, I learned that 1 knot is 1.15077945 miles per hour, so a 20 knot wind was about 23 miles per hour. Not all that significant of a difference, but the kind of stuff my mind loves to get hold of. A mile is 5280 feet, so a nautical mile would be 6076.12 feet, or 6076 feet, 1.4 inches. Now, of course, everything is metric, and that would be 1.85 kilometers. About.

There’s something distinctly less romantic, if that’s the word for it, about metric weights and measures. They don’t have neat names. Like a furlong. Horse races are measured in furlongs, and as it happens, a furlong is 1/8 of a mile. Turns out that the city of Chicago, built as it is on a grid, has city blocks that are one furlong each. So from Ashland Avenue (1600 West) to Western Avenue (2400 West) is one mile, and Wood Street (1800 West), where I used to live, is two city blocks, or furlongs, from Ashland and six furlongs from Western. Now, though, Ashland and Western are 1.609 kilometers (or kilometres, for my Canadian friends) apart, and Wood is 402 meters from Ashland.

Or, let’s talk about the stone. That’s 14 pounds. If someone weighs 20 stone, he weighs 280 pounds. (He’s a big ol’ boy.) But now, he’s 125 kilograms. Where’s the fun in that? I mean, before the metric system, we had all kinds of cool stuff: acres, chains, rods, cubic feet, fathoms, degrees Fahrenheit, and you used gallons to denote both dry and liquid measure. And there were US gallons and imperial gallons, the imperial gallon being 160 fluid ounces, the US gallon 128 fluid ounces. And the apothecary measures, the dram (1/8 oz.) and the scruple (about .7314 dram). My dad used to say a person would eat a peck of dirt in his life. A peck is 2 gallons, and 1/4 of a bushel. That’s a lot of dirt, you know?

To bring this full circle, 1/2 cup (imperial or US) is a gill, pronounced “Jill,” just like my godmother…

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Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

10 thoughts on “STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS SATURDAY: A knotty problem”

  1. Knots is where I departed from BSA. I started into Webelos but did not make it very far. I could not figure knots. However I always did enjoy Don Knotts.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Don Knotts was one of the funniest men I’ve seen, even before Barney Fife made him an icon. He was in “No Time For Sergeants” with Andy Griffith, and his performance was classic. And, remember, before any of that, he was on “The Steve Allen Show” and “The Garry Moore Show,” the latter with Carol Burnett.

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  2. I liked hearing about the different knots and knots as measurement and all the measurements as well. I too like all the traditional ways of measuring that we have. In Nursing we had to learn about cubic centimeters, drams and ounces. Dram has a funny squiggle when you write its sign. We had to be careful when reading the difference between the designation for dram and ounce, very similar. Also drops or gtt. I am reminded of the old song that goes I love you a bushel and a peck. 🙂

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    1. There were so many songs and poems that used the non-metric measures. And even when they use metric measurements… This is “Fever” by Peggy Lee:

      Now you’ve listened to my story
      Here’s the point that I have made
      Chicks were born to give you fever
      Be it Fahrenheit or centigrade

      When they started using metric temperatures, they started calling them degrees Celsius, but that would screw the whole song up. “Celsius” doesn’t rhyme with “made,” but there are kids that don’t know they’re the same…

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      1. Yes and kids will have to learn the difference when they read poetry or literature from earlier times. Here in California kids are still learning about cups, pints, gallons, feet, yards and miles and Fahrenheit. I hope we do keep this method of measurement. They are learning the metric system as well. I would have to look up bushel, peck, fathom, acre and so on because I just don’t use them on a daily basis. But I think it is still good to know.

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        1. Most cooking directions still speak in terms of the avoirdupois units. It’s easier to ask for a cup of flour rather than 142 grams, etc. or 2 cups of milk rather than 473 ml. Rounding it to 500 ml of milk and 150 grams of flour might be too much milk or too much flour. If you’re baking, that could be a mess.

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          1. You bring up another interesting point. My husband’s aunt moved to Australia a while back and she had to learn to cook using all the metric measurements. And learn to convert recipes.

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  3. Ha! I liked the way you wrapped that up. 🙂
    Although we use metric here, we still tend to measure ourselves in pounds a feet… unless we’re at the doctor’s office and then we get all confuddled. 😛

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    1. I don’t think the old English or avoirdupois systems are going away anytime soon, certainly not in the minds of people who grew up thinking in those terms. Plus, the big problem is none of the old measures converts exactly to a metric measure. And, when I hear it’s 20 degrees outside, I think I have to bundle up. Hell, I still call it centigrade…

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      1. Haha! Yeah, I’m actually lucky in that I was young enough to get used to the new measures, but old enough to learn the old ones. I can think in Farenheit and Celsius at the same time.

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