A unit of measurement equal to five feet, seven inches (1.7018 meters), often cited when discussing the inherent arbitrariness of measurement units.
[After Oliver Smoot, Jr. (born 1940), whose height was used as the basis for the measurement.]
Word History: Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have long been known for their playful pranks, which they call hacks. In 1958, members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity used one of their pledges, the 5′7" Oliver Smoot, Jr., as a unit of measure. They marked off the Harvard Bridge that connects Boston to MIT's campus in Cambridge in 10-smoot increments, using his body to make the measurement. Since then, the smoot marks have been assiduously maintained on the bridge, which measures 364.4 smoots, plus or minus one ear. Interestingly, Smoot went on to become the chair of the American National Standards Institute and president of the International Organization for Standardization.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.
American Heritage Dictionary Products
The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition
The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
The American Heritage Roget's Thesaurus
Curious George's Dictionary
The American Heritage Children's Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots
The American Heritage Student Grammar Dictionary
The American Heritage Desk Dictionary + Thesaurus
The American Heritage Science Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Business Terms
The American Heritage Student Dictionary
The American Heritage Essential Student Thesaurus