Line (unit)

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The line or British line[1] (abbreviated L or l) was a small English unit of length, variously reckoned as 110, 112, 116, or 140 of an inch. It was not included among the units authorized as the British Imperial system in 1824.


The line was not recognized by any statute of the English Parliament but was usually understood as 14 of a barleycorn,[citation needed] which itself was recognized by statute as 13 of an inch but often reckoned as 14 of an inch instead. The line was eventually decimalized as 110 of an inch, without recourse to barleycorns.[4] The button trade used the term, redefined as 140 of an inch.[5]

In use[edit]

Botanists formerly used the units (usually as 112 inch) to measure the size of plant parts. Even after metrication, British botanists continued to employ tools with gradations marked as linea (lines); the British line is approx. 2.1 mm and the Paris line approx. 2.3 mm.[6]

Gunsmiths and armament companies also employed the line, in part owing to the importance of the German and Russian arms industries.[7] These are now given in terms of millimeters, but the seemingly arbitrary 7.62 mm caliber was originally understood as a 3-line caliber (as with the 1891 Mosin-Nagant rifle). The 12.7 mm caliber used by the M2 Browning machine gun was similarly a 5-line caliber.[7]

Foreign units[edit]

Other similar small units called lines include:

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Klein, H.A. (1974). The Science of Measurement: A Historical Survey. Dover Publications. p. 72. ISBN 9780486144979. 
  2. ^ Jefferson (1790).
  3. ^ Niles (1814), p. 22.
  4. ^ Jefferson,[2] republished by Niles.[3]
  5. ^ Cole (2002).
  6. ^ Stearn, W.T. (1992). Botanical Latin: History, grammar, syntax, terminology and vocabulary, Fourth edition. David and Charles. 
  7. ^ a b Hogg (1991).
  8. ^ Cardarelli (2004), pp. 121–124.