Why must everyone describe the size of any given area in acres? Is everyone supposed to be born with a innate feel for exactly how large an acre is?

If I had a used car for every time that someone described the area of something in terms of acres, I’d have the largest collection of used cars ever assembled. Something is “forty acres” in size. That forest covers “four hundred acres.” Their yard is “half-an-acre” in size.

Here’s the deal. I don’t have the slightest idea of how big an acre is. Sure, it might be 4046.85642 meters squared, but how big is that? I can picture a square mile (this is America after all, and we use miles, damnit!). Why can’t people say that such and such is “forty square miles” in size. That I can understand.

A mile can be driven in a car. It can be walked on foot. It can be biked. How does one bike an acre? Does your car’s odometer register the number of acres traveled since it was assembled? Perhaps you step out for an evening walk of ten acres?

Of course not. You step out for a walk of a half-mile or a mile. You bike miles. Your car travels three thousand miles or more between oil changes. We all understand miles. Hence, to square those miles is no great intuitive leap. Heck, if you grew up in a state like South Dakota where there are section line roads, and each section is a square mile, it would seem almost easier to talk about area in terms of miles instead of acres.

Now, most of the people reading this essay are saying, “Dummy. You’re comparing acres with miles. That’s an area measurement and a distance measurement. Why don’t you compare grape jelly with sirloin steaks next?!” Unfortunately, that is false reasoning.

The acre has an interesting history. Originally, it was the area of land a yoke of oxen could plow in one day. So, he of the stronger, faster oxen had larger acres than he of the lazy, weak oxen. This meant that the acre was just as precise a unit of measurement as cubits were (the length of your forearm).

So, an acre was fixed to be 10 sqare chains (tangentially: a chain’s length is either 66 feet or 100 feet, depending on whose chain is used). But, it still doesn’t correspond neatly to meters or hectares, nor does it correspond to feet (in most instances; remember the chain dependancy mentioned above), yards, or miles. Sure, an acre can be expressed in squared terms of all those measurements, but not neatly like meters and hectares (1 hectare = 10,000 sq. meters).

An acre is nothing more than a shorthand way of compressing a squared distance measurement in conversation and writing. Rather than saying, “Well, I live on 43,560 sq. ft. or 10 square chains” someone might say, “I live on an acre.” So, why don’t we simply invent other terms to express oddball squared distance values? Let’s term 4 square miles a “rorvak” and 16 square miles a “frindorg.” Then, we could talk about owning a farm with 2 rorvaks of land someday while cities could express their metropolitan size in frindorgs.

Ultimately, those terms are no different than acre. My made up terms just happen to be unfamiliar.

Another argument for using acres is that they are a convenient way of expressing area measurements that everyone uses. That argument doesn’t hold water at all. I would challange anyone to tell me the area of my monitor screen (it’s a 15” LCD) in acres. Need me to scale up a bit? How about the size of my living room in acres? Still too small? How about the size of my house in acres?

About the only thing ever measured in acres is land or very large areas. If we’re measuring land or very large areas, why not use square miles and be done with it? Why use a word that doesn’t make communication any easier?

To further cloud the issue of acres, there are different acre measurements in different parts of the world. The international acre is 0.0162 square meters smaller than the American acre.

So, if folks in the US expressed areas in square miles or yards (remember, this is America, damnit! We don’t use the metric system) and those so inclined to use the heretical metric system used square meters or hectares, acres could go the way of polio or smallpox.

The other incredibly useless way to talk about the size of an area is to translate the size of an area into football fields.- “An asteroid the size of a football field…”

USS Abraham Lincoln dimensions are usually given in football fields…”](http://www.motortrend.com/features/travel/112_0105_abe/) Really? Dimensions on the Abe are giving in football fields?

  • “Can I get a nut 1/7000th of a football field in diameter?”
  • “How tall are you sailor?”“I’m 1/60th of a football field tall, sir!”
  • “The printer needs some more paper that measures 0.0019 football fields by 0.0025 football fields before our orders from the Pentagon will finish printing.”
  • “This National Landmark vessel, nearly the size of a football field,was…” Etc., Etc., Etc.

There are several problems with this stupd linguistic crutch. 1. A football field means different things to different people. In America, a football field is used by the NFL. In England, a football field is used by soccer teams like Manchester United. The two field sizes are different. So, to describe something in terms of a football field can only lead to confusion. Is that a British football field, or an American football field? To make thing even murkier, the Canadian Football League plays a game closely related to American football, but on a field that has different dimensions.

Before anyone claims that such confusion could never happen, allow me to present Exhibit A: a page about pyroclastic flows. This page describes uses a wonderful smashing of mental orientation when it describes the width of a (round) lava dome formed on Mount St. Helens in lengths of a football field (don’t even get me started on how a round object apparently has a width. Maybe the writer of the page could tell me the round object’s length next?). Now, you might think that the page is clearly referencing American football fields, as it discusses an American volcano. Until you realize that the page is served off of a server in the United Kingdom with no mention of American authors. Now, are the football fields in question American or British?

  1. People who don’t spend much time on football fields, generallly don’t know or care how big such a field is. Sure, they might be able to say, “It’s one hundred yards long; one hundred and twenty yards long if you include both end zones” but intellectually knowing how big something is doesn’t mean that you can picture it in your minds eye. For instance, if I told you that Lake Superior holds 12,100 cubic km of fresh water, that wouldn’t mean much to most people. However, if I told you that Lake Superior contains more water than all the other Great Lakes combined and then some, that is a useful comparison, something with which your mind can be comfortable. Finally, the newest entry in my “I Couldn’t Make This Stuff Up” gallery is a page that explains how an acre is about the size of a football field.google_ad_client = “pub-9050559929403028”;google_ad_width = 728;google_ad_height = 90;google_ad_format = “728x90_as”;google_ad_type = “text_image”;google_ad_channel =”“;google_color_border = [“FDFFCA”,”CC99CC”];google_color_bg = [“FDFFCA”,”E7C6E8”];google_color_link = [“0000CC”,”000000”];google_color_url = [“008000”,”00008B”];google_color_text = [“000000”,”663366”];