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The avoirdupois ( ; ) system is a system of weights (or, properly, mass) based on a pound of sixteen ounces. It is the everyday system of weight used in the United Statesmarker, and is still widely used to varying degrees by many people in Canadamarker, the United Kingdommarker, and some other former British colonies despite the official adoption of the metric system.

History of the term

Graph showing the relationships of English weight measures.
The word avoirdupois is from Old French aveir de peis (later avoir de pois), literally "goods of weight" (Old French aveir, "property, goods", also "to have", comes from the Latin habere, "to have, to hold, to possess property"; de = "from", cf. Latin; peis = "weight", from Latin pensum). This term originally referred to a class of merchandise: aveir de peis, "goods of weight", things that were sold in bulk and were weighed on large steelyards or balances. Only later did it become identified with a particular system of units used to weigh such merchandise. The imaginative orthography of the day and the passage of the term through a series of languages (Latin, Anglo-French and English) has left many variants of the term, such as haberty-poie and haber de peyse. (The Norman peis became the Parisian pois. In the 17th century de was replaced with du.)

Original forms

These are the units in their original French forms:

Table of mass units
Unit Relative
value
Notes
dram or drachm 1/256 1/16 once
once 1/16
livre 1
quintal 100
tonne 2,000 20 quintaux


Note: The plural of quintal is quintaux.

British adaptation

When people in the United Kingdommarker began to use this system they included the stone, which was eventually defined as fourteen avoirdupois pounds. The quarter, hundredweight, and ton were altered, respectively, to 28 lb, 112 lb, and 2,240 lb in order for masses to be easily converted between them and stones. The following are the units in the British or imperial adaptation of the avoirdupois system:

Table of mass units
Unit Relative
value
Metric
value
Notes
dram or drachm 1/256 ~1.772 g 1/16 oz
ounce (oz) 1/16 ~28.35 g 16 dr
pound (lb) 1 ~453.6 g 16 oz
stone (st) 14 ~6.35 kg ½ qtr
quarter (qtr) 28 ~12.7 kg 2 st
hundredweight (cwt) 112 ~50.8 kg 4 qtr
ton (t) 2,240 ~1,016 kg 20 cwt


Note: The plural form of the unit stone is either stone or stones, but stone is most frequently used.

American customary system

The thirteen British colonies in North America, however, adopted the French system as it was. In the United States, quarters, hundredweights, and tons remain defined as 25, 100, and 2,000 lb respectively. The quarter is now virtually unused, as is the hundredweight outside of agriculture and commodities.If disambiguation is required, then they are referred to as the smaller "short" units in the United States, as opposed to the larger British "long" units.

Table of mass units
Unit Relative
value
Metric
value
Notes
dram (dr) 1/256 ~1.772 g 1/16 oz
ounce (oz) 1/16 ~28.35 g 16 dr
pound (lb) 1 ~453.6 g 16 oz
quarter (qtr) 25 ~11.34 kg 25 lb
hundredweight (cwt) 100 ~45.36 kg 4 qtr
ton (t) 2,000 ~907.2 kg 20 cwt


Internationalization

In the avoirdupois system, all units are multiples or fractions of the pound, which is now defined as 0.45359237 kg in most of the English-speaking world since 1959. (See the Mendenhall Order for references.)

Due to the ambiguous meanings of "weight" as referring to both mass and force, it is sometimes erroneously asserted that the pound is only a unit of force. However, as defined above the pound is a unit of mass, which agrees with common usage. Also see pound-force and pound-mass.

See also



References




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