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Span (length)

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Title: Span (length)  
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Subject: Giant (mythology), List of human-based units of measure
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Span (length)

A span is the distance measured by a human hand, from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger. In ancient times, a span was considered to be half a cubit. Sometimes the distinction is made between the great span (thumb to little finger) and little span (index finger to little finger).[1][2]


Ancient Greek texts show that the span was used as a fixed measure in ancient Greece since at least archaic period. The word spithame (Greek: "σπιθαμή"), "span",[3] is attested in the work of Herodotus[4] in the 5th century BC, however span was used in Greece long before, since the word trispithamos (Greek: "τρισπίθαμος"), "three spans long",[5] occurs as early as the 8th century BC in Hesiod.[6]

Size of the span

English usage

See also: English unit

1 span 
= 9 inches[7]
= 0.2286 m

Arabic usage

In Arabic, the analogue of the great span is the šibr (شبر). It is used in Modern Standard Arabic and classical Arabic, as well as in modern-day dialects.

Slavic usage

In Slavic languages, the analogue of the span is various words derived from Proto-Slavic *pędь (Bulgarian педя, Polish piędź, Russian пядь, Slovenian ped, etc.). In various Slavic languages it is the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger or index finger. For example, Slovenian velika ped = great span (23 cm), mala ped = little span (9.5 cm); Russian piad = 4 vershoks = 17.8 cm. See Obsolete Russian weights and measures.

African usage

In Swahili, the equivalent of the great span (thumb to little finger) is the shibiri while the little span (thumb to forefinger) is the futuri.[8]

Hungarian usage

In Hungarian, the span, or arasz, is occasionally used as an informal measure and occurs in two varieties: measured between the tips of the extended thumb and index finger, it is kis arasz (the "small arasz"); between the tips of the thumb and little finger, it is nagy arasz (the "large arasz"). The term "arasz," used by itself without a modifier, is usually understood as referring to the "large arasz," i.e., to the "span."

Asian usage

In Hindi-Urdu and other languages of Northern India and Pakistan, the span is commonly used as an informal measure and called bālisht (Urdu: بالشت, Hindi: बालिश्त).[9]

In Nepal, where this method of measurement is still used in informal context, a span is called Bhitta.

In Tamil, it is called "saaN".

See also



  • Lyle V. Jones. 1971. “The Nature of Measurement.” In: Robert L. Thorndike (ed.), Educational Measurement. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: American Council on Education, pp. 335–355.
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