Arbitrary Units of Measurement

There’s something wonderfully human about the arbitrary objects we use to describe sizes that are hard to comprehend.

(Many of these provided on Twitter by @Gerald_Ashley, @PolemicTMM, @steveoneill77, @patrickjharris, @JohnHyde1982, @rorysutherland, @JaseClarke_CX, @Armo, @aden_76)


Double-decker buses


Football Pitches


Empire State Buildings

(or more recently, Shards)


Tennis Courts (small)

Waleses or Belgiums (large)



(The height of which are often compared to double-decker buses)

Volume (large)

Olympic swimming Pools

(NOT normal-sized swimming pools. That would be confusing.)

Volume (small)

(especially Toothpaste or Epoxy Filler)

Pea size

Golfball size

Word Count

Novels – usually War and Peace

(Particularly used for explaining the length of government reports)

Length of Document

The Magna Carta

The Gettysburg Address

Distance (short)

Household objects

Distance (medium)

Laps of the M25

Distance (long)

The Moon and back

Circumference of the earth

Orbits of the International Space Station

Thickness (small)

Human Hair

(Is there one for large thickness? Tree trunks? Lampposts?)


Pneumatic Drill

Jumbo Jet


Nurses or footballers (depending on what point you’re trying to make)

Controversial wealth, tax payments, or spending


(e.g. Amazon’s missed tax payments would build 100 hospitals)

White Elephants

£Hundreds – Duck Houses

£Thousands – No.10 Refurbs

£Millions – Millennium Domes

£Billions – High-Speed Railways

Buying Power

Big Macs




Internet Speed

Movies per second

Car Speed

Horse Power.

(Because we all know what ninety 90 horses somehow merging into one massive powerful horse would be like)

Food Calorie intake

Bic Macs

Drink Calorie intake

Teaspoons of Sugar


Body height

(e.g. a flea can jump 80 times it’s own height)

Baby Size

Types of fruit

Animal Intelligence

Human age

(e.g. A parrot is as smart as a three-year-old human)

Animal Brains

(Specifically types of nut, and specifically dinosaur brains)



(e.g. You can get this for the price of one cup of coffee per day )

Cups of Coffee


A normal month’s worth


The legal limit

CO2 Emissions Reduction

Cars off the road

Power Generation


e.g. ‘the new wind farm could power 20,000 homes’

Figurative Phrases

Speed – as a speeding bullet

Heat – as hot as the sun

Happiness – happy as larry

Sickness – sick as a parrot

Drunkenness – as a skunk

Sobriety – as sober as a judge

Cunningness – as cunning as a fox

The ultimate measures

As fuck


All photos from the brilliant

Thanks for reading this article, I really hope you enjoyed it. You can subscribe to my monthly newsletter below, and find me in tweet form @johnjsills, in picture form on Instagram @CX_Stories, or in work mode at The Foundation

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