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 ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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