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Before I answer that question, allow me to digress a bit. Did your mother ever remind you that “Anything over a mouthful is wasted"? I came to realize one day, that a mouthful is actually a unit of volume in the old English customary units. Although you won’t hear that unit used in your local supermarket, it is a unit just under 1 cubic inch and when this volume is of water, it weighs about ½ ounce. The everyday people of 1400 – 1700 England would sometimes buy such small amounts at the market.
The mouthful starts a tree of units. Most of us are familiar with but a few of the units.
Mouthful = about ½ Ounce
Mouthful X 2 = Jigger (The common bartender jigger is not one ounce, but 1.5 ounce)
Jigger X 2 = the Jack or Jackpot (sometimes a double jigger)
Jack X 2 = Jill (gill) (also about a pail yet another unit)
Jill X 2 = cup (Yes, you do remember this unit! Thus, a cup is equal to 16 mouthfuls! Remember to count them next time you drink a cup of something.)
Cup X 2 = pint (By the way, a “Pint is [not] a pound the world around” for in Britain, it is 1 LB 3 oz.)
Pint X 2 = Quart
Quart X 2 = pottle
Pottle X 2 = Gallon (Yes, there is more than one size of gallon, but we won’t go there today)
Gallon X 2 = peck
Peck X 2 = Half bushel
Half bushel X 2 = bushel
Bushel X 2 = strike , coomb or cask
strike X 2 = barrel (yes, again there are many barrels, but this one is 32 gallons)
barrel X 2 = hogshead
hogshead X 2 = pipe or butt
pipe X 2 = tun (tun and ton sound alike and a tun of water weighs 2,120 pounds) this is probably due to the fact that there were again many different sized tuns)
When King Charles was crowned in 1625, taxation was based on tonnage and poundage. This tyrannical King, ruled without parliament and set a tax on the jackpot. The jackpot was not only taxed, but its volume reduced to increase the Kings revenue. (Does it sound like the tricks going on in Washington today?)
Now, if you lived under a king, you didn’t have free speech. If you yelled “Down with the King” your life would not last long. Instead of being shaken down by the secret service, you would be run through.
Ahh, but the cleaver English people still found ways to express their opinions. Many of the mother goose nursery rhymes are really political protest. Which brings us back to Jack and Gill.
Now, you will notice that this verse is really about units. The Jack was the unit that the king had reduced; as in “Jack fell down” and that of course caused the “Jill to come tumbling after” because the Jill was twice a Jack. A pail is about the same size as a Jill.
When gambling (a sport for the numerically challenged), people speak of hitting the Jackpot. King Charles hit on the jackpot by reducing its measure to increase his take. This is a gamble he lost.
You might also note that the Jack and Jill rhyme foretold the future, which ended with the English civil war. In 1640 the parliament came into session and passed a bill that gave parliament alone the power of taxation just as our congress has that sole power today.
The king had thus lost his real power and went on to conspire with the French, hoping to regain his power. He was caught in the act, arrested, and tried for treason. He was convicted and thus the king lost his head in 1649. His decapitation was not but a few years after the reduction of the jackpot’s size.
The empowerment of the people came from the Magna Carta, which is
the basis for the rule of law in this country. The precipitation of the
Magna Carta’s effects led ultimately to the breaking of King Charles
If you liked this story see - The Science of Measurement; A Historical Survey by Herbert Arthur Klein
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