Monday, June 22, 2015

Word with a History: Mile

Mile has a few definitions, the most well-known being the measure of a certain distance. In 1592 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Parliament established a mile as 1,760 yards (5,280 feet). The reason for this is also an interesting tidbit of history as it deals with Anglo-Saxon divisions of land, but a different story from where the word mile is derived. In this instance, it is a noun, but we also use it as an adverb indicating a great distance or far such as: her math skills are miles ahead of her peers.

The Middle English word mile came from the Old English, mīl, which came from Latin’s milia, which came from milia passuum, or literally, thousands of paces. Milia was plural of mille meaning thousand. This makes it sound metric, but it was not. Mile begins
with the Roman Legions, the Roman Army, and logistics, although the Romans didn’t know the word logistics, which is a French word first used in 1861 and is basically the art of calculation. Logistics deals with all the stuff soldiers need like weapons, food, uniforms, lodging, etc., and how to obtain, distribute and store it. In other words – organization.

During their era, no one planned or organized better than the Romans Legions. They had to! 

Two thousand plus years ago they governed an empire stretching from England to the Middle East and from Germany to Northern Africa depended on its Legions. Their armies conquered most of that territory. The army’s logistic problem was how to get legions from one location to another and how to determine how long it would take.
From Wikipedia Commons -- Roman Legion marching
Along with being warriors, Roman soldiers were skilled craftsmen and builders of roads, bridges, walls, fortresses and aqueducts. They built roads and marked out the distance of a mile with a carved stone mile marker along the side of every road.

So what was the distance for the mile measurement?

One thousand double paces, which was one step with each foot or five feet, of a Roman Legion or about 5,000 feet.

If you know how many miles the desired location is from the current point where your army is located, and the average time it takes the legion to cover a measured distance, you know how much time is needed to get your troops from here to there in the empire.

And the word military? It comes from Middle English (first know use 15th century), derived from the Latin word militaris, from nominative milites (plural) and miles
(singular) meaning soldier.

We also have vast miles of roads now called interstates and expressways mapped out in miles (in the U.S.). Will they last as long as Roman roads and mile markers?

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