|Look up by a hair's breadth or hair in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
This measurement is not precise because human hair varies in diameter, ranging anywhere from 17 μm to 181 μm. One nominal value often chosen is 75 μm, but this – like other measures based upon such highly variable natural objects, including the barleycorn – is subject to a fair degree of imprecision.
Such measures can be found in many cultures. The English "hair's breadth" has a direct analogue in the formal Burmese system of Long Measure. A "tshan khyee", the smallest unit in the system, is literally a "hair's breadth". 10 "tshan khyee" form a "hnan" (a Sesamum seed), 60 (6 hnan) form a mooyau (a species of grain), and 240 (4 mooyau) form an "atheet" (literally, a "finger's breadth").
Some formal definitions even existed in English. In several systems of English Long Measure, a "hair's breadth" has a formal definition. Samuel Maunder's Treasury of Knowledge and Library of Reference, published in 1855, states that a "hair's breadth" is one 48th of an inch (and thus one 16th of a barleycorn). John Lindley's An introduction to botany, published in 1839, and William Withering' An Arrangement of British Plants, published in 1818, states that a "hair's breadth" is one 12th of a line, which is one 144th of an inch (a line itself being one 12th of an inch).
Other body part measurements
Winning a competition, such as a horse race, "by a whisker" (a short beard hair) is a narrower margin of victory than winning "by a nose." An even narrower anatomically-based margin might be described in the idiom "by the skin of my teeth," which is typically applied to a narrow escape from impending disaster. This is roughly analogous to the idiomatic phrase "as small as the hairs on a gnat's bollock." German speakers likewise have a small measurement, i.e. the Muggeseggele.
- List of humorous units of measurement
- List of unusual units of measurement
- Indefinite and fictitious numbers
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- Smith 2002, p. 253.
- Crook & Osmaston 1994, p. 133.
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