Emperors, antiquarians and elephants

What do the above have in common?

Well, believe or not they’re different sizes of paper in the English Imperial system. An emperor is the largest size – 72 × 48 (all measurements in inches), an antiquarian is 53 × 31, and an elephant is 28 × 23. There are also double elephants (40 × 27) and grand eagles (42 × 28 ¾), while the smallest size of writing paper is the pott (15 × 12 ½). A bit more interesting than A4, A3, etc!

Quantities of paper also have special terms to describe them:

  • quire = 24 sheets of paper
  • ream = 480 or 516 sheets of paper, or 20 quires
  • bundle = 2 reams
  • bale = 5 bundles

Quire comes from the Latin quaternī, set of four, four each, via the Vulgar Latin quaternus, the Old French quaer and the Middle English quayer.

Ream comes from the Arabic rizma, bundle, via Old Spanish resma, Old French reime, and Middle English reme.

Sources: The Free Dictionary and Paper measures

This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

0 Responses to Emperors, antiquarians and elephants

  1. TJ says:

    There is actually other words for a stock of papers in Arabic (and in our dialects sometimes), like:
    حزمة [hozmah] it is used mainly with a bundle of anything almost … sticks … or papers for example.

    There is one word we use in our dialect now do denote a pack of A4 papers for example, and the word seems to be either turkish or farsi, that is “Dastah” [دسته]

    we also use the word “packet” but with different vowel structure and say it as “baa-kait” باكيت
    rarely used for papers (but some people prefer to use it anyway) but its widely used for cigarettes. And a collection of cigarettes’ packets is called “Kirz” [كرز] … I wonder if this word was originated from English or Turkish maybe?

  2. AR says:

    Although the Imperial system (which we still use here in the US) is more interesting, its still much harder to master than the A4, A3 system (what’s the real name?).

  3. TJ says:

    If you ask me, I think the A4 A3 system is more practical to use when it comes to printing, press, computer designs and so. It’s easy to predict the size. double A4 = A3, double A3 = A2, double A2 = A1 and so on…

  4. The “A4” system was originally the DIN (Deutsche Industrie-Norm) system, and is now ISO (International Standards Organisation). It is based on dimensions that allow a sheet, when cut in half, to retain its proportions. Imagine a sheet measuring 1 x sqrt(2) units. [sqrt(2) is the square root of 2] When cut in half it will be sqrt(2)/2 x 1, which is geometrically similar. The basis for the system is the A0 sheet, which (with the above proportions) measures 1 square meter.

  5. TJ says:

    Thanks Ronald 🙂

    what about the B-size and the F-size?

  6. Phil says:

    Here in Canada the size of paper that corresponds to the A4 roughly in size and usage is 8 1/2 by 11. Perhaps it’s the same in the U.S. I came to Canada just over a year ago and it took me about 3 months to realize that the paper sizes were different. For those three months I was confused. Why did I have to mess with my CV to get it to fit on the paper. Why were my British certificates sticking out the top of the binder.

    Now, I think I prefer 8 1/2 by 11 paper; it’s a nicer shape and less long. However, I can’t abide the name; It’s too long. I was hoping that there would be a curious and wonderful name for this size of paper that I could use. Alas, this paper size is too small.

  7. AR says:

    8.5 by 11 is called letter. 8.5 by 14 is legal. The same system is used in Canada and the US. There are a few other sizes.
    There is an ANSI system which follows a similar principle to the ISO but it uses letter as its base.

    The other letters (eg. F) are extensions of ISO. Japan also has a variant called B (different from ISO B).

    Who knew paper sizes could be so interesting.

  8. Phil says:

    I’m glad 8 1/2 by 11 has a name. I was hoping it would be called something like a ‘hoot’, a ‘seahorse’ or a ‘calumniating pontiff’, but ‘letter’ will have to do.

  9. lionello says:

    I don’t think the A4 system originated with DIN, Ronald. According to my source, the origin is older. A law was passed in France on 3 November 1798, fixing the sizes of paper sheets; one of these (“Grand Registre”) was 0.4204 X 0.5946 m; its area was 0.25 sq. m, and the ratio of its sides (as you can calculate for yourself) was 1:1.414. It was, in fact, exactly the DIN/ISO A2 size. DIN 476, defining the A4 series, was not issued till 1922 — it was the brainchild of Dr. Theodor Porstmann, who based his work on the original French ideas, of which he was well aware.

    My source for the above is an article “Should North America adopt standard metric paper sizes?” in “PULP AND PAPER”, August 1974, by Richard J. O’Brien. I have not myself checked the French historical records.

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