• Paul Anthony Jones


(n., Finnish) a unit of distance based on the furthest distance a dog can still be heard barking

We don’t always stick to English here at HH; if the word is interesting enough, the language it’s from doesn’t matter. Case and point, last week’s most popular tweet was the word peninkulma: a Finnish unit of distance based on the furthest distance at which a dog’s bark can be heard.

That being said, as a unit of measurement the peninkulma was originally strictly defined not using the fairly imprecise yardstick of a dog’s long-distance bark, but as a unit of length equal to 5 virsta—an measure (based on the even older Russian verst) equal to around two-thirds of a mile.

That made the original peninkulma equivalent to roughly 3.3 modern miles, but in the early seventeenth century it was redefined as 10 virsta—or 6.6 miles. Then, when Finland adopted the metric system in 1880, the peninkulma was redefined to 10 kilometres—or 6.2 miles.

Although it’s length has changed over the years, etymologically the peninkulma kept its canine definition throughout: the word itself brings together peni, a Finnish word for “dog” (apparently not much used in modern Finnish except as a stock name for a dog, like “Rover” or “Rex”) alongside the Finnish word kuulua, essentially meaning “to be heard” or “to be audible”.

All told, the peninkulma is essentially a “dog’s-hearing”.


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