Avoirdupois, averdepois
Posted: 15 October 2011 08:59 AM   [ Ignore ]
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The system of weights used in the UK and US (I say used in the UK as, although we’re officially metric, pounds and ounces are still very much with us here.) I checked the term out years ago but, having cheerfully forgotten everything I then learned, I looked it up again today and a comment in the entry intrigued me. First the etymology:

A recent corrupt spelling of avoir-de-pois , in early Old French and Anglo-Norman aveir de peis ‘goods of weight,’ < Old French avoir , aveir , property, goods, aver n., de of, pois , peis (= Provençal pes , pens , Italian peso ) < Latin *pēsum , pensum , weight. The first word had the variant forms of the simple aver n., and the pronunciation remains ˈaver ; the Norman peis was from 1300 varied with, and c1500 superseded by, the Parisian pois . The best modern spelling is the 17th cent. averdepois ; in any case de ought to be restored for du , introduced by some ignorant ‘improver’ c1640–1650.

I love the ignorant improver gibe!

What particularly interested me is sense 3.

3. Weight; degree of heaviness. (Common in U.S.)

1600 Shakespeare Henry IV, Pt. 2 ii. iv. 257 The weight of a haire wil turne the scales between their haber de poiz.
1680 Hon. Cavalier 26 To make it more than Aver-du-pois.
1883 Atlantic Monthly May, [Football] Avoirdupois and strength are at a premium for rushing, blocking, and tackling.

Is the term still current in this sense in the US? (I’m assuming this is an unrevised 19th century entry.)

While I was at it I checked out troy weight too, wondering what the topless towers of Ilium had to do with the weighing of silver and gold (bread once too). Nothing, it would seem. Wrong Troy.

The received opinion is that it took its name from a weight used at the fair of Troyes in France, which is favoured by the Scottish forms, trois , troiss , troyis .

Do they still use troy weight in the UK or US? (It’s been a while since I had to weigh any gold bullion.)

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Posted: 15 October 2011 10:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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No, the sense 3 is not current in the US, at least I’ve never heard it spoken. (I have run across it in literature.)

And avoirdupois is rarely heard in regard to standards of measure. It’s just assumed that’s what you’re talking about with no need to mention it. You’ll see troy specified when the weight of bullion is given.

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Posted: 15 October 2011 10:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I have heard it used orally in sense 3 in the US.  I wouldn’t call it common, but I’m surprised that Dave hasn’t heard it.

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Posted: 15 October 2011 10:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’ve heard it occasionally, meaning “heaviness” or “fatness” (of a person). But I doubt I’ve heard it in the last 30 years.

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Posted: 15 October 2011 11:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I’m sure those of us who went to English schools were all taught “avoirdupois” and what it’s supposed to mean; however, the spelling “averdepois” has long been known to students and aficionados of metrology. Norman Biggs (a professor of mathematics at the University of London, and a well-known authority on metrology - he’s a veteran officer of ISASC) always uses this spelling, as reflecting more accurately the etymology of the word (see, for instance, N. Biggs, English Weights - an Illustrated Survey, WHITE HOUSE PUBLICATIONS, ISBN 1 898310 00 9).

the sentence aldi quotes is a nice bit of Falstaffian hyperbole: in 1600 there was no scale in existence which “the weight of a haire” would turn..............who outside of a Shakespeare play would say “aver de poiz” for “weight”? I’m sure the use is equally rare on both sides of the Atlantic

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Posted: 16 October 2011 05:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I heard this in a really old piece of football coverage, I would guess from the 1950s, and it was basically part of a play on words about “poise”, so it wasn’t clear that the speaker would normally have said it.

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Posted: 20 October 2011 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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A bubble just rose up from the bottom of Swamp Memory, containing this corny old riddle from my schooldays:

Q: what weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?

A: A pound of gold.

A pound of feathers would be 1lb averdepois = 453.6 grams; a pound of gold would be 1 lb. troy = 373.2 g

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Posted: 20 October 2011 06:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Then a pound of feathers weighs more.

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Posted: 20 October 2011 10:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Of course, Dr. Techie...that’s the whole point of the riddle.

I must have been cold sober when I wrote that......

;-)

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Posted: 21 October 2011 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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In the traditional riddle the response expected is gold whereas the correct answer is that both weigh the same. In your version, using the different systems of weight, the response expected remains gold but the correct answer, as Dr Techie said, is feathers. The way that you’ve written the riddle gives the wrong answer and goes on to explain the right one. Usually the right answer is given followed by the explanation. Is that where the confusion lies or am I missing something?

[ Edited: 21 October 2011 07:41 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 21 October 2011 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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It’s quite straightforward. Feathers, like any other commercial goods, have been weighed in the Anglo world by averdepois for several hundred years. So “a pound of feathers” is “a pound averdepois of feathers”. Gold, on the other hand, has been weighed in English speaking countries by Troy weight, for several hundred years - never by averdepois. So “a pound of gold” is a pound Troy, and weighs quite a lot less than a pound averdepois of feathers. (an ounce Troy, on the other hand, of which there are 12 in a pound, weighs a little over 31 g, whereas an ounce averdepois (16 to the pound) weighs 28.3 g. So an ounce of feathers weighs less than an ounce of gold.

I screwed up a perfectly simple riddle by originally giving the wrong answer, which should have been: A: A pound of feathers. As I said - i must have been cold sober to do that. But at least, that’s easily rectified........

;-)

aldi: the correct answer is not that they’re the same. the correct answer is that a pound of feathers is heavier.

[ Edited: 21 October 2011 08:45 AM by lionello ]
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Posted: 21 October 2011 11:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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lionello - 21 October 2011 08:40 AM


aldi: the correct answer is not that they’re the same. the correct answer is that a pound of feathers is heavier.

I was talking about the original, omnipresent in Christmas crackers and riddle books when I was a kid. And the answer to that was definitely that they were equal, a pound weight being equal to a pound weight no matter what you’re weighing. There are clearly two different versions of the riddle, the one which I remember from childhood and the more sophisticated one which you recall, the answer to which is feathers. I had no notion of that version until you mentioned it but I see from googling that it’s widespread.

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Posted: 21 October 2011 12:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I remember those riddles from Christmas crackers and riddle books all too well, aldi:

Q.  When is a door not a door?
A.  When it’s ajar. (When it’s a jar)

Q. Why did the chicken cross the road?
A. To get to the other side.

Q. Why did the lobster blush?
A. Because he saw the salad dressing.

Q. Why can you never starve in the desert?
A. Because of the sand which is there (the sandwiches there).

(the ones with word-play usually had the explanation appended, to make sure you didn’t miss the joke).

Many of those riddles and jokes looked as though they were aimed at the mentally challenged, or even at the mentally already defeated.  I can well believe that you saw the version of the gold/feathers riddle which you describe, though I never saw it myself - the version I gave is the only one I knew of, until now.

Here’s one I’m saving for when I have my very own Christmas Crackers factory:

Q. What did the brassiere say to the top hat?
A. You go on ahead, while I give these two a lift.

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Posted: 21 October 2011 01:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I originally heard the riddle as “a pound of feathers or a pound of lead”, which would both be be measured in avoirdupois pounds, and so of course the correct answer is that they weigh the same, even though “lead is heavier than feathers”.

Of course, gold is heavier than lead, but a pound of gold is lighter than a pound of lead.  But an ounce of gold is heavier than an ounce of lead, or an ounce of feathers....

I need to go lie down.

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Posted: 21 October 2011 10:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Utilisez Le Système International d’Unités ou mourez, foutreurs-des-meres.

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Posted: 13 February 2012 02:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Dr. Techie - 21 October 2011 01:36 PM

I originally heard the riddle as “a pound of feathers or a pound of lead”, which would both be be measured in avoirdupois pounds, and so of course the correct answer is that they weigh the same, even though “lead is heavier than feathers”.

Of course, gold is heavier than lead, but a pound of gold is lighter than a pound of lead.  But an ounce of gold is heavier than an ounce of lead, or an ounce of feathers....

I need to go lie down.

I’ve heard the riddle a pound of feathers or a pound of lead but I’ve never heard of avoirdupois before. Always learning something new.

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