Line (unit)

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The line (abbreviated L or l or or lin.) 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.[3] The button trade used the term, redefined as ​140 of an inch.[4]

In use[edit]

Botanists formerly used the units (usually as ​112 inch) to measure the size of plant parts. Linnaeus's Philosophia botanica (1751) includes the Linea in its summary of units of measurements, defining it as "Linea una Mensurae parisinae"; Stearns gives its length as 2.25 mm. 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.[5]

Gunsmiths and armament companies also employed the ​110-inch line (the "decimal line"), in part owing to the importance of the German and Russian arms industries.[6] 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.[6]

Foreign units[edit]

Other similar small units called lines include:

  • The Russian liniya (ли́ния), ​110 of the diuym which had been set precisely equal to an English inch by Peter the Great[7]
  • The French ligne or Paris line, ​112 of the French inch (pouce) and about 1.06 L.
  • The Portuguese linha, ​112 of the Portuguese inch or 12 "points" (pontos) or 2.29 mm
  • The German linie was usually ​112 of the German inch but sometimes also ​110 German inch
  • The Vienna line, ​112 of a Vienna inch.[8][9]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Jefferson (1790).
  2. ^ Niles (1814), p. 22.
  3. ^ Jefferson,[1] republished by Niles.[2]
  4. ^ Cole (2002).
  5. ^ Stearn, W.T. (1992). Botanical Latin: History, grammar, syntax, terminology and vocabulary, Fourth edition. David and Charles.
  6. ^ a b Hogg (1991).
  7. ^ Cardarelli (2004), pp. 121–124.
  8. ^ Albert Johannsen. "Manual of petrographic methods". p. 623.
  9. ^ Karl Wilhelm Naegeli; Simon Schwendener. "The Microscope in Theory and Practice". p. 294.