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Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure
By the time the Frequently-Made Comparisons Monster was finally defeated, it had eaten enough people to fill a stadium and devastated an area the size of Rhode Island.

Are the radio-waves from objects in space any threat to us?
No, they are extremely weak. The total energy collected by radio astronomers over the history of radio astronomy amounts to about the energy required for a mosquito to make one push-up!
Dr. John Simonetti of the Department of Physics at Virginia Tech

How do you show someone the force of an erupting volcano via print, or the height of the Burj Khalifa over a 17-inch screen?

No matter how huge something may be, it's hard to wrap your mind around the scale of it without seeing it for yourself, or having some point of reference to compare it to.

That's where this trope comes in. A simple way to show the size of something is to compare it to something else that a lot of people are familiar with. That's why many documentaries, especially ones of the "World's Biggest Whatever" variety, will use measurements that compare things to familiar or historic events, places, and objects.

  • Energy: Released by explosions and hurricanes: will be measured in atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima. When trying to be slightly more specific, they use "kilotons of TNT". Electricity will be measured in "enough to light up X% of Manhattan for Y amount of time".
  • Height will be measured in Empire State Buildings, Eiffel Towers, or Pyramids of Giza. Really big heights will be compared with Mt. Everest or any of the other famous mountains (Denali, K2, Anapurna, Matterhorn, etc).
  • Volume and concentration will be measured in Olympic swimming pools.
    • In the United Kingdom, volume is sometimes measured in Albert Halls (and as The Beatles told us, 1 Albert Hall = 4000 Holes).
    • In Australia liquid volumes are sometimes measured in Sydharbs (the amount of water it would take to fill Sydney Harbour, or about 500 gigalitres).
  • Lengths will be measured in trips to the sun, times around the Earth's equator, or distance between the Earth and the Moon. The mean distance between the Earth and the Sun is used as an actual unit of measurement, the Astronomical Unit (AU). Smaller lengths (comparatively speaking) might be measured as the distance between two points, e.g. "Enough copper wiring to stretch from Chicago to Minneapolis".
  • Small lengths will be compared to the thickness of a human hair. Also acceptable is the head of a pin, as in how many of what can fit on one. Also acceptable: amount that can fit in the eye of a needle. Another uncommon one is how many of something can fit inside a period (the punctuation mark, you pervert.)
  • Area will be measured in football fields, or compared to that of some region (Wales, Texas, Switzerland...).
  • Weight will be measured in sacks of concrete, Boeing 747 jumbo jets, VW Beetles (for some reason, it's always VW Beetles or Mini Coopers), or large animals (usually elephants and whales, or sometimes both [the tongue of a blue whale could fit 3 elephants on it]).
  • Large amounts of money are generally measured one of three ways:
    1. as the length of that many one-dollar bills laid end-to-end, using one of the astronomically-sized length measures, e.g. "If the National Debt were in dollar bills and you laid them end-to-end, it would stretch all the way to the sun and back 9 times."
    2. in stacks of dollar bills (for truly large amounts, larger denomination bills may be used) using one of the standard comparative-height measurements ("One million dollars would be a stack of dollar bills one and one half times as tall as the Empire State Building").
    3. by how much a person would have to spend per day/hour/minute/second without stopping for <however long> ("To spend a billlion dollars, a person would need to spend $1901.32 every minute without stopping for a year")
  • Small spherical objects (mostly hail) will be compared either to fruit or sporting equipment (grapefruit, golf-balls, etc).
  • Anything to do with zoology and especially paleontology will use the average human height.
  • A population will be measured by how many football/Olympic stadiums they could fill.
  • Absurdly high temperatures will be compared to the Sun, the melting point of certain metal, or a (possibly self-cleaning) oven.
  • Despite stronger metals existing for a long time (like tungsten carbide and carbon steel), compressive and tensile strength is still compared to steel (e.g. spider's silk/nylon/carbon fiber is X times stronger than steel). Sometimes compressive strength is compared to concrete.
  • Animal strength will invariably be compared either to how much a bulldozer can lift; or, for small creatures, to how much they could carry/lift/jump if they were blown up to human size (ignoring the problems being human sized would cause them).
  • Fat and calories will often be given in units of cheeseburgers or large pizzas.
  • Because any amount of radiation sounds scary, the BED was invented (Banana Equivalent Dose) to help people understand small amounts are inconsequential. xkcd touched upon it here.
  • The size of vehicles are often given in terms of other vehicles.
    • For ships the standard is usually The Titanic or "an aircraft carrier".
    • For smaller automotive sized objects, a VW Beetle will be the yardstick. For larger objects, (especially in North America) a Greyhound bus may be the comparison.

Basically, any unit of measure that equates to something extreme in that property, but is still rather vague and hard to comprehend since the average person doesn't know what that ''is'' off the top of his or her head. Bonus points if the number of the unit of measure is still ridiculously large (e.g. 1,000,000 Hiroshimas) thereby defeating the purpose of describing it in those terms even if the unit was something people would intuitively understand.

Many of the units on Wikipedia's list of unusual units of measurement are of this form.

This trope is for unusual units for quantities that have well-defined values in ordinary non-facetious units. If you measure an amount of something that usually is not given a numerical value at all, such as "evil" or "beauty", it is an Abstract Scale. See also Fantastic Measurement System.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 

    Comic Books 
  • There is a story by Carl Barks with Donald Duck and his nephews, where they are travelling into space via a virtual machine Gyro Gearloose made. Donald takes them to bigger places where he recreates earthly stuff on vast scales, constantly using comparative scales for his nephews and the readers to grasp. This is mixed with using objects of continuously lesser scales — first insects, than dust, snowflakes, etc — surpassing them. The story is called 'Donald's Big Imagination'. A grasshopper from Betelgeuse is imagined having 5 ocean liners on its back and the circumference of the star uses a time-scale analogy, namely "Earth's fastest rocket takes 100 years to fly around it".

    Documentary 
  • The documentary Walking with Dinosaurs mentions the meteorite at the end of the Cretaceous as "hitting the Earth with a power of 100,000,000 Hiroshima bombs".
  • Seven years earlier, Planet Of Dinosaurs did this straight three times. The Meteor Crater was made by a rock which hit the Earth with an impact like 4 Hiroshima bombs; the Tunguska Event (1908, in Siberia) was provoked by a mysterious body with a power of 1,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs; finally, the iconic meteorite of the End Cretaceous with its 100,000,000 Hiroshima bombs.

    Film — Live Action 
  • The movie Armageddon uses this trope while describing the size of the asteroid.
    President: How big are we talking?
    Scientist: Sir, our best estimate is 97.6 billion—
    Dan Truman: It's the size of Texas, Mr. President.
  • Deep Impact features a comet described as "The size of New York City, from the Battery to the Bronx. Or, put another way, it is larger than Mt. Everest." The opening narration also used the "Hiroshima measurement" when speaking of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Even though they try to make it sound impressive, they severely underestimate the energy released by the real impact.
  • In Jarhead, this is noted as a legitimate military tactic to quickly gauge distances: use things you know, such as the length of a football field.
    SSgt. Sykes: You take what you know, and then you multiply. Please don't use your dicks. They're too small, and I can't count that high. I don't wanna hear, "400,000 inches."
  • In the film The Giant Claw, the Special Effects Failure creature is constantly compared in size to a battleship.
  • Sunshine's Icarus Two is built around "a stellar bomb with a mass equivalent to Manhattan Island". (How heavy is Manhattan Island? That depends on how thick it is.)
  • In The Abyss, Lindsey asks Lt. Coffey how many missiles are on the wrecked sub they are investigating:
    Coffey: Twenty-four Trident missiles, eight MIRVs per missile.
    Lindsey: (beat) That's a hundred and ninety-two warheads, Coffey. How powerful are they?
    Coffey: The MIRV is a tactical nuke. Uh, fifty kilotons, nominal yield, say... five times Hiroshima.
    Lindsey: Jesus Christ. It's World War III in a can.
  • In Cradle 2 the Grave, the second-most powerful setting of the superweapon is described as "two Hiroshimas". The number-one most powerful setting is described as "new world order".
  • The Soviet movie Operation Y and Other Adventures of Shurik has this personified in the construction foreman — he gives a lengthy speech consisting entirely of this trope, culminating in one of the movie's many Crowning Moment of Funny.
    Foreman: ...twice as tall as the world-renowned Eiffel Tower, or thrice as tall as the famous Notre Dame de Paris, incidentally, that's French for "Our Lady of Paris".
    Brute: (nonchalantly) Whose lady was that?
    Foreman: (taken aback) Our. Of Paris.
  • In Help!, as The Beatles record a song in the middle of Salisbury Plain with the Army protecting them, the bad guys burrow underneath, setting a massive amount of explosives labelled in military-grade stencil "Equal to exactly one millionth of the explosives exploded in one week of the Second World War".
  • In Independence Day, when describing the mass of the alien mothership, it's said to be "a quarter the size of the moon."
  • Ghostbusters: Egon uses a convenient Twinkie to describe the current PKE levels in the containment unit. Ironically, he gets something about the size of Mr. Stay-Puft.

    Literature 
  • A children's book called the I Wonder Why Encyclopedia occasionally measures weight in terms of small cars despite also giving actual units and somehow deciding that cars weigh exactly one ton.
    • The problem with this is that it's a moving target. A "mid-size" 1981 Dodge Aries and a "small" 2008 Toyota Yaris both weigh about 2500 lbs.
  • In Fred Saberhagen's "Berserker" series, the Berserker enemy A.I. spaceships are often described as the size of Manhattan Island. Which for a space ship is HUGE.
  • New Scientist's Feedback column maintains a discourse on unusual units used in media and advertising lasting probably since its inception — London buses, blue whales, football pitches etc etc etc.
  • The children's book How Much Is A Million teaches kids about large numbers in this manner.
  • The problem with trying this sort of thing is lampshaded in one of the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, explaining that the titular guide (known for its breezy style) gets around the whole problem simply by stating "Space is big. I mean really big. You may thing it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts compared to space."
  • Discworld: According to an advertisment in the The Compleat Ankh-Morpork City Guide, every bowl of Makewar's Crispy Nuts breakfast cereal contains the same amount of nuts as three squirrels.
  • In the Skylark Series, instead of giving the hardness of arenak and inoson on the Mohs scale, or the strength of arenak and inoson in pounds per square inch at failure, they are said to be "500 (or 2000) times harder and stronger than the hardest and strongest steel".

    Live-Action TV 
  • How Do They Do It described a ship as "the length of three football fields" and "six times the size of the Titanic" within one minute.
  • Killer Asteroids on the Science Channel describes asteroids' power in terms of Hiroshima bombs.
  • The narration writers for The History Channel series Modern Marvels love these, even when they're less than helpful. Particular favorites are "the thickness of a human hair" or some fraction of it; aircraft carriers for size or volume; and football fields, or "Los Angeles to {insert appropriate city}" for distance. Of course, before you can describe something's size in units of aircraft carriers, you first have to mention that an aircraft carrier is the length of 5 football fields.
  • The Doctor Who Children in Need special "Time Crash" said, as a joke, that the explosion caused by the time crash make a hole in the space-time continuum exactly the size of Belgium. The Fifth Doctor remarks that Belgium (as a unit of measurement) is a bit underdramatic, but a bit later uses it as a shorthand for the catastrophe, as in "Two minutes to Belgium!"
  • The "How to be Well" public service announcements on Nickelodeon stated that one pecan pie has the same amount of fat as twelve cheeseburgers.
  • Many documentaries on ships will give the size of the ship as measured in Titanics.
  • Parodied in Monty Python's Flying Circus, as part of a spoof documentary on Tchaikovsky.
    Graham Chapman: Well, if you can imagine the size of Nelson's Column, which is roughly three times the size of a London bus, then Tchaikovsky was much smaller. His head was about the same size as that of an extremely large dog, that is to say, two very small dogs, or four very large hamsters, or one medium-size rabbit if you count the whole of the body and not just the head.
  • Cosmos Apersonal Voyage:
    • In a chillingly poetic comparison in the last episode, Carl Sagan compared the total tonnage of bombs dropped in World War II — about 2 megatons of TNT — to the yield of a single modern strategic thermonuclear weapon. Given the size of the world's arsenals at the time, the tonnage of bombs and warheads we could theoretically drop in World War III, he said, would be "A world war 2 every second, for the length of a lazy afternoon." He then went on to say that this was the equivalent of a million Hiroshima bombs.
    • In an earlier episode, he quoted another scientist saying that all the energy ever collected by all the radio telescopes in the world is less than the energy of a single snowflake striking the ground.
  • The Angel episode "Time Bomb" had the demoness Illyria threatening to implode and, according to Wesley's conservative guess, take out several city blocks. Angel requests an "unconservative" guess.
    "Rand & McNally will have to redraw their maps."
  • These kind of measurements come up on QI from time to time. Apparently the UK purchases enough wrapping paper for the Christmas season every year to gift-wrap the island of Guernsey.
  • Animal Planet likes to compare animals' caloric intake with numbers of hamburgers. Like, a vulture eats the equivalent of 50 hamburgers in one sitting. (Scaled down to the body mass of a vulture, of course. If a vulture ate 50 actual hamburgers, it would explode.)
  • In the "Earth from Space" episode of Nova (PBS), they showed the brine released from freezing water in the antarctic cascading downward under water. It was said to be 500 times the flow rate of Niagara Falls. Earlier in the same episode, they described the energy absorbed by all the water vapor evaporating from all the Earth's oceans in multiples of the entire energy production of all power plants in the world combined.
  • On How Its Made, when discussing the manufacture of steel coffins: "This requires 900 tons of pulling force — the equivalent of hoisting 27 fully loaded tractor-trailers."
  • In the '60s Walter Cronkite once pointed out that the Apollo space capsule had as much room for a three-man crew in bulky spacesuits as the front seat of a Volkswagen (then universally understood to mean a classic Beetle) meant for two in normal street clothes.

    Magazines 

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The Far Side had a panel inspired by writings about how fast a school of piranha can skeletonize a cow. He thought this was an odd thing to use as the standard unit of measurement, and since his comic regularly features cows anyway, this inevitably became the basis for a panel: Two cows in pith helmets and hiking gear are exploring the Amazon, and one of them reads the statistic from a guidebook, commenting "...now there's a vivid thought." Note that the cows are standing in a piranha-infested river while reading this.

    Stand-up Comedy 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st Edition, used the gold piece as a unit of weight. Your carrying capacity, the lifting power of a telekinesis spell, the load limit of Tenser's floating disc, etc. — all these were given in units of gold pieces rather than pounds. (At the time, 1 gold piece weighed 1/10 of a pound, so converting between pounds and gold pieces was rather easy, although it did make for some ridiculously heavy coins. When 2nd Edition came out, the weight of 1 gold piece changed to 1/50 of a pound and the notion of listing weight in g.p. was abandoned.)

    Video Games 
  • Katamari Damacy uses this form of measurement to illustrate the size of your katamaris.
  • Mass Effect tends to use Hiroshimas to quantify the yields on starship mass accelerators, both in-game and in the Codex. One particularly memorable scene from 2 has a gunnery captain chewing out a pair of recruits about just how powerful the gun really is, and how important it is to check their targets.
    "This, recruits, is a twenty-kilo ferrous slug. Feel the weight! Every five seconds, the main gun of an Everest-class dreadnaught accelerates one to one-point-three percent of light speed. It impacts with the force of a 38 kiloton bomb — that is three times the yield of the citybuster dropped on Hiroshima back on Earth! That means Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest sonofabitch in space!"
    • Also, in Mass Effect 1, Admiral Hackett will use it to describe the size of a tactical nuke attached to a recon probe launched during the First Contact War.
  • Grobnar of Neverwinter Nights 2 starts using his team mates as a unit of measurement.
    Grobnar: No one really knows how big the Wendersnaven are. They could be thousands of Khelgars high!
    Khelgar Ironfist: What did I say 'bout usin' me as a unit of measurement?!
    Grobnar: Er, right, several Neeshkas high.
  • Starting near the end of the second Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game, Phoenix starts making a habit measuring the size of various pieces of furniture (or a safe) by how many Pearls he could fit on or in them.

    Webcomics 
  • This Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip pokes fun at the tendency of science TV programming to do this.
  • xkcd gives us several of these here.
    • And then parodies the practice here.
  • In Goats, Phillip needs one of these to comprehend the number of people he's killing every time he creates and destroys another universe:
    Yakmeat: Every time we run a simulation, we are literally creating an entire artificial universe to experiment with. And when an experiment is over, we're just turning off quadrillions of lives.
    Phillip: I can't conceive of a quantity that large. It's meaningless. You're speaking jibberish.
    Cornhusk: Each termination can be reduced to a function of 3.5 billion times the number of people exterminated by Adolph Hitler in your level's second world war.
    Phillip: Oh my God. 3.5 gigahitlers? Each time?
  • Dave in Homestuck mediates on this trope over instant messaging:
    TG: like mr president theres a meteor coming sir. oh yeah, how big is it? its the size of texas sir
    TG: OH SHIT
    TG: or, how big is it? its the size of new york city sir
    TG: OH SHIT
    TG: sir im afraid the comet is the size of your moms dick
    TG: OH SNAP
    TG: sir are you familiar with jupiter
    TG: you mean like the planet?
    TG: yeah
    TG: well its that big sir
    TG: hmm that sounds pretty big
    TG: i have a question
    TG: is it jupiter?
    TG: yes sir, earth is literally under seige by planet fucking jupiter
    TG: OH SHIT
  • In this The Order of the Stick panel, Belkar's evilness is measured in "kilonazis".
  • The Non-Adventures of Wonderella: Author Justin Pierce explains in The Rant that an upcoming multi-part comic will be handled by adding extra panels to the bottom of a single page, rather than spreading it out over multiple pages. Then he starts measuring the length of the comic in "Toms":
    In other words, using Toms as a scale, the comic is currently a Tom Servo... though tomorrow it'll be a Tom Cruise. By Wednesday it'll be nearing a Tom Hanks, and by this time next week it'll be a Tom Selleck. Thank you for your tom.
  • In Tag Dream, the kappa have repaired a damaged ring in such a way that it will explode if it receives an impact sufficient to kill a crow tengu 256 times.
    Aya: ...wait, you guys used me as the standard?!

    Web Original 
  • One Bash.org contributor came up with one:
    <Ixnorp[Regenerating]> I think I've found an excellent unit of size measurement. It's the 'I could kill you and hide your body in it' unit. People usually become very quiet after you say, "yea, I could kill you and 3 other people and hide the bodies in this"
  • Technology discussion boards have used "Libraries of Congress," in reference to the physical U.S. legislative library of the same name, as a measure of storage capacity. Various actual figures are occasionally tossed around as a baseline (often hovering in the tens of terabytes), but they vary widely, and now that people with a cursory knowledge of computers are familiar with kilo, mega, giga and terabytes, the term is now used as a joke more often than not.
    • A similar comparison was used in Snow Crash to describe the speed of the novel's fiber-optic data transfers:
      Narrator: In order to transmit the same amount of information on paper, they would have to arrange for a 747 cargo freighter packed with telephone books and encyclopedias to power-dive into their unit every couple of minutes, forever.
  • Knowledge engine Wolfram Alpha is programmed to give a few examples when it gives an answer involving any sort of units. It doesn't always get the "well known" part right and does things like comparing lengths of time to equinox precession periods.
    • Giving it the request "volume of human body multiplied by human population" makes it return an answer in... "person liters". (460 billion personL, specifically, if you want to know.)
    • The query 1.15 teraelectronvolts is equated to (among other things) 1.2 times the kinetic energy of a flying mosquito.
  • The Furry Fandom has historically had the "Meekometer" (sometimes just called the "Meeko"), used to compare the sizes of plush toys (20 inches, the size of a certain Mattel-made Meeko plush).
  • When the fanbase compared the size of Super Smash Bros. Melee's "Final Destination" stage to that of Brawl, someone had the idea to use a character, cloned and stood end-to-end, as a unit of measurement. The result? Melee's was "thirteen-and-a-half Falcons long". Brawl's was thirteen. There was another attempt to use Samus Aran as a unit of height.
  • The Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale page on this very wiki measures the distance to the nearest star in terms of U.S. National Debts worth of gasoline that it would take to drive there.
  • An epic HP fanwar provided a unit of measure for insanity, thanks to one Lady Darkness insisting on being married to Snape on an astral plane: "One Ladark (...) is defined as the amount of batshittery necessary to believe a fictional character originating within the last 20 years is real and speaks to you. Most wanks can be measured in milliLadarks. This one hits about three."
  • This YouTube video measures the size of the largest known star in terms of how many years it would take an airliner to fly all the way around it.
  • Tech news site The Register has its own units of measure:
    • Areas are measured in units of Wales, Belgiums and Democratic Republic of Congos, and Football Pitches (soccer fields). One Wales is a thousand MilliWales, one million MicroWales and one billion NanoWales respectively.
    • Force is measured in units of Norris
    • Lengths are measured in units of Linguine, Double-decker buses and Brontosauruses. One foot is approximately 2.1772 linguines, 0.0331 double-decker buses and 0.0022 brontosauri.
    • Temperature is measured in units of degrees Hilton. Zero degrees Hilton is 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), the temperature of a comfortable room. One degree Hilton is defined as the amount of heat required to make an average person remove a layer of clothing (+10 degrees Celsius).
    • Volume is measured in units of Walnuts, Chicken eggs, Grapefruits, Bulgarian Airbags, Bulgarian Funbags, Footballs (soccer balls, not pigskin) and Olympic-sized swimming pools.
    • Weight is measured in units of Jubs — A Jub is 1000000 MicroJubs, 1000 MilliJubs, and 0.001 KiloJubs respectively.
    • Speed is measured in terms of percent of the maximum velocity of a sheep in a vacuum.
  • In his science blog What If?, Randall Munroe has measured energy in megayodas (as a Call Back to an earlier post) and altitude in giraffes.
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged had a Running Gag with Vegeta using Butt Monkey Raditz's power level of 1000 as a unit of measurement during the Vegeta arc. For the record, Nappa is worth 5 Raditz, while Vegeta himself is worth 15.
    • When Vegeta and Nappa start growing Saibamen, Vegeta comments that their power level is 1000, so that they can literally grow Raditzes. Cut to Raditz going "I. Hate. ALL OF YOU."
    • Later on "Raditz" somehow starts being used as a currency; the fast-food restaurant Spacey's even has a "Raditz Menu".

    Western Animation 
  • The Leap Frog educational DVD Scout and Friends: Adventures in Shapeville Park featured mice called "measure mice" used as part of a song number about measuring. "Look at Penny jump / How far can she go? / We can use the measure mice and then we'll know / Line them up and count them up, place them end-to-end! / Her jump is two mice long! That's how long!" The mice were cute and the song was catchy, but the problem was that no real-world units were given to relate just what "two mice" was. Some felt this may have been done to avoid having to get into confusion between metric and imperial units, but more than one reviewer and commenter on Amazon.com felt the idea of measuring with mice was somewhat bizarre.
    • As opposed to common-sense units of length, such as the foot size of a long-dead king, or one ten-thousandth of the distance between the north pole and the equator.
  • In the South Park episode "More Crap", the European Fecal Standards and Measurements measures the size of craps in courics (named after Katie Couric), and one couric equals 2.5 pounds of poo.

    Real Life 
  • The yield of cataclysmic explosions is frequently measured in terms of number of Hiroshima equivalent.
    • They are almost always measured in kilo/megatons. That means that they are as powerful as that many thousand or million tons of TNT. Little Boy, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, was somewhere between 13 and 18 kilotons.
      • It would take about 4 kilotons of TNT to fill an Olympic swimming pool.
    • Wikipedia also uses the Tsar Bomba, the biggest nuke ever made, to measure the eruptive power of the Krakatoa eruption. (Hint: 1 Tsar Bomba = 3,125 Hiroshima bombs, and 4 Tsar Bombas = the Krakatoa eruption)
    • The energy released by a large meteor impact (like the one that killed the dinosaurs) is often likened to collecting all the nuclear weapons in the world to one spot and exploding them all at once, then repeating it about 1,000 times within the same second (for a more precise comparison, the energy released by the impact of a meteor with a 10km diameter is about 100,000,000 megatons. The Hiroshima bomb was 0.016 and Tsar Bomba 50 megatons).
    • Project Rho has a handy Boom Table listing energy release in joules, equivalent mass of TNT and example phenomena that might cause such an event.
    • It is worth noting that comparing earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in general to nuclear explosions is quite imprecise, and has been known to irritate some geologists. Earthquakes tend to distribute energy across a wide area, but nukes are an adequate approximation for explosive volcanic eruptions (like Mt. St. Helens, or Thera) and meteor strikes (like Tunguska); one need only compare the depth of a crater or radius of a blast to see.
  • In America, many people will emphasize how small or remote a town is by listing the miles to nearest Wal-Mart, McDonald's, major grocery store, or multiplex.
    • Hint: You're never farther than 115 miles from a McDonald's
      • This doesn't include Alaska. If it did, it'd be a lot further than that.
      • under 40km in Germany! source. Unless you count Helgoland, where the nearest restaurant seems to be in Cuxhaven, some 60 km away.
    • City size can also be described similarly; Sunnydale, for instance, is "a one Starbucks town."note 
  • In America, Rhode Island's status as the ultimate in mass land-area equation technology is legendary, it having been founded for just such a purpose by the British to convey meaningful analogies of claimed territories to the Throne. If the area being described is too big to be measured reasonably in Rhode Islands, it's often measured in Connecticuts, South Dakotas, fractions of a Texas or fractions of an Alaska.
    • Our Dumb World, an atlas by the Onion, describes Rhode Island as being "roughly the size of one Rhode Island", which is to say: about 1/3 the size of Puerto Rico, or 76 times smaller than Portugal.
    • The CIA World Factbook describes the land area of every country in the world this way: "about half the size of Texas," "about the size of South Dakota" and in one or two cases "approximately three times as big as The Mall in Washington DC."
  • PJ O'Rourke once lampshaded this trope, on a tour of a US Navy vessel, and came up with a few comparisons of his own, deciding for instance that the ship contained "enough rope to hang every Democrat elected to Congress since the Johnson administration."
  • For height, the preferred unit in the US is the Empire State Building. The Eiffel Tower is also used fairly often. For geologic height, it's Mt Everests.
    • For Sydney, Australia, it is the Sydney Tower.
    • British Newspapers prefer to include a range of comparisons to whatever the subject is, including a double-decker bus, Big Ben (St Stephen's Tower), St. Paul's Cathedral, Canary Wharf, The Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the Petronas Towers and any other really famous skyscraper.
    • Mt. Everest occasionally appear as a unit of mass or weight. One science special declared that if all the mass in a single wooden matchstick were converted to energy, it would be enough to lift Mount Everest 20 feet off the ground.
  • Welsh comedian Rhod Gilbert has commented on BBC newsreaders' practice of describing areas of land as being the size of Wales:
    I know what you're thinking when you say it: "An area the size of Wales, [angrily] but not Wales!"
  • Eohippus, the tiny ancestor of horses, is almost universally described as "about the size of a fox terrier". What makes this case particularly interesting is that this comparison is considerably more well-known than the size of a fox terrier itself, at least among paleontologists. Stephen Jay Gould wrote a lengthy article on the origin of this meme. Today, the "fox terrier" comparison is outdated. So now textbooks just say Eohippus was "about the size of a modern dog". Granted, there's such a wide size range among modern dogs that this is rather less helpful.
  • The snipers in many armies are trained to judge distances with their eye, by getting them to think about a specific distance that they personally know a great deal about. Due to the nature of people who work as snipers, this often results in the distance being measured by eye in terms of "how many football fields long".
  • And, of course, every dinosaur's brain is about the size of a walnut.
    • Similar to the above, it's common (mostly in documentaries) to compare the size of anything prehistoric with the size of a dinosaur. For instance, you typically won't get through a documentary talking about marine reptiles like Mosasaurus or Tylosaurus without having the narrator mention how it was "X times bigger than a T-Rex".
  • One measurement for caloric content is to compare foods to the equivalent number (or fractional number, as the case may be) of McDonalds Big Macs (540 calories, 27% of the average recommended daily caloric intake). Discussed in one PvP strip, where Skull notes that even monsters do that (one plump Bavarian kid is apparently equivalent to 500 Big Macs).
    • A somewhat more peculiar measure: The Economist invented, and uses, a measurement called "The Big Mac Index" to compare currencies; since McDonalds is very strictly standardized, the price of a Big Mac directly corresponds to what it costs for the restaurant to serve it; as such, comparing the cost of a Big Mac to currency exchange rates can tell you when a currency is under- or over-valued.
      • In some places (like Italy) the measurement is skewed by the very large, nearly 100%, "tax on junk food": a Big Mac in Florence may cost 6.5 euros (7.88 USD), while the same Big Mac in Vienna, where junk food is not taxed, only costs 3.5 euros (4.24 USD).
  • Astronomers routinely measure the masses of stars and other heavy objects in increments of "solar masses". The masses of extrasolar planets are usually measured in increments of Jupiter masses or Earth masses.
  • Inverted. When the atomic bomb was first dropped on Hiroshima, Time magazine described it as seven times the power of the Halifax explosion.
    • A regular example at the Halifax memorial museum. The Halifax explosion is described as the biggest single explosion before Hiroshima.
  • In the US, hail is infamously measured in "balls". That is, is the hail the size of a ping-pong ball/golf ball or a baseball? This is, of course, because hail is small and round. Balls are small and round, so the comparison is understandable.
    • Smaller hailstones are often compared to US coins, such as quarter-sized or dime-sized. Even smaller hailstones may be considered "pea-sized"
  • Number of deaths will be compared with the Black Plague or the Holocaust. For example, people often assume that the Black Plague of the 14th century was the worst pandemic ever. The Spanish Flu killed twice as many people in a shorter amount of time. It's also used to try and impress upon people the importance of AIDS research. Another example is trying to explain to Americans how deep of an impact WWI had upon its populace. What with wiping out a whole generation of young men and all.
    • The Black Death vs. Spanish Lady comparison shows two different ways of looking at how deadly a disease outbreak is: The former is very bad in terms of proportion of the population killed, the later in terms of total number of deaths. The Black Death killed, over a span of approximately ten years, about one person in three in Europe, making it one of the most lethal disease outbreaks of all time. The Spanish Lady killed a much smaller fraction of a much larger population, taking many more total lives (more than were killed in WWI, in fact, but with less dramatic social impact because they were more scattered through the population instead of being heavily concentrated among young men).
  • Late night hosts began measuring time in "Kardashian Marriages", a unit of approximately 72 days.
  • In the world of writing things very small, which is exactly as fascinating as it sounds, the standard unit is 'bibles per square inch'.
  • "The Potrzebie System of Weights and Measurements," described in MAD #33, is largely similar to the metric system, but with different base units. The standard unit of length, the potrzebie, is defined as the thickness of MAD #26 (2.263348517438173216473 mm). The Potrzebie System was sent in to MAD by then-19-year-old Donald Knuth, who became a famous computer scientist. This is also a case of Fantastic Measurement System, though based on a real-world item.
  • This article on renewable energy, on page 2, measures how much land each type of renewable energy would require in units of New Jerseys.
  • This article from The Other Wiki lists several of them.
  • Theoretical physicists frequently write their equations in terms of Planck units, units derived by setting each of 5 fundamental constants of the universe equal to 1. While these units have the distinction of being "natural," in that they're not bound to an arbitrary quantity like the size of the Earth or the mass/oscillation speed of a particular atom, their magnitudes make them completely impractical for everyday measurements. The Planck unit of length, for example, is about a hundred-quadrillionth the width of a proton, and the Planck unit of temperature is about 10^25 times the core temperature of the sun.
  • In the game of Twenty Questions, players would usually ask if the object in question is bigger than a breadbox. Few people own breadboxes anymore, but then again few people play Twenty Questions either.
  • This article describes a microscopic bead that spins "half a million times faster than a domestic washing machine and more than a thousand times faster than a dental drill."
  • The temperature on Venus is typically described as "hot enough to melt lead".
  • Many common units of measurements likely started this way. For example, an "atm" is the pressure of sea level Earth's atmosphere, a "bar" is an amount of pressure about that of Earth's atmosphere, but consistent with metric units. Temperature scales were based on boiling and freezing points of water — Celsius sets 0 and 100 at those points for distilled water, while Fahrenheit originally had 32 as the freezing point of water and 96 as human body temperature.note 
  • Needles prevent hedgehogs from combing out parasitic insects that fall on them. Thus parasitologists came with a "hedgehog-hour" — the number of ticks a hedgehog collects after 1 hour walk in a tick-infested area.
  • Pretty much all scientific units of measure are based on some property of some physical object, most commonly water.


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