As I climb slowly upward during this year's assault on Tolstoy's massif War and Peace (Ann Dunnigan's translation) I occasionally am forced to pause on the word "verst" --- clearly a unit of distance, as the Russian army struggles to traverse countless versts. There's much the feel that I had upon laboring to cross a "league" in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

But how far is a verst? Turning to the Net of Lies and Occasional Truths, one finds that a verst (more properly Верста = versta) is a traditional Russian unit equal to 500 sazhen (сажень); a shazen in turn is 3 arshin (аршин). And finally the light dawns: an arshin is defined as 28 English inches. So a sazhen converts to 7 feet, and a verst comes to about two-thirds of a mile (~1.07 km). Now I can get back to those forced marches, pursued by Napoleon ...

(see also CreativeDevices (1 Jan 2001), TruthInBattle (11 Feb 2001), RaggedRunner (23 Mar 2002), ... )

TopicLiterature - TopicScience - TopicLanguage - TopicHumor - 2004-09-22

(correlates: OnOneFoot, ShortRun, Comments on OozeOnVerst, ...)