inch/zoll and laurel leaves

John McNeill johnm at ROM.ON.CA
Sun Sep 7 15:09:23 CDT 1997

Alexey V. Kuprijanov wrote:

>1. How long is the 'German inch' (Zoll)?

I leave this to others, but according to the Oxford English Dictionary
(the "complete" edition), the "German mile" was between 4 and 5
"English" miles (i.e. "Imperial miles", as the British used to term
them - and may still do).

I do, however, know that the Paris inch (and, hence, the Paris line -
1/12 of an inch) was significantly longer that the Imperial inch (and
line).  I believe that it equalled 1.094 Imperial (& US) inches, i.e.
2.7778 cm (not 2.54 cm), as I think it was derived from a "pied
usuelle" (everyday foot) established in 1812 (for the purposes of
retail trade) as 1/3 of a metre.  The Paris line would thus be 2.31
mm, as against 2.12 mm for the line in the Imperial system.

A number of 19th century botanical works, e.g. Boissier's Flora
orientalis, used these (or a related "Geneva inch" and "Geneva line")
in measurements of floral parts, which are as a result just a bit
longer than they would appear to be, were the numbers thought of as
being Imperial measures.

>2. In the United Kingdom, the laurel leaves were extensively used
>  in killing-jars and boxes. Though British entomologists never
>  indicated more definitly the taxonomic position of the poisonous
>  plant they used, I supposed that that they used leaves
>  of _Laurus_. However, their German colleagues, translating a
>  paper by H.T.Stainton, enclosed in brackets the name _Laurocerasus_.
>  Does it mean that in the UK-entomologists used _Laurus_ while
>  Germans used _Laurocerasus_ or, that the english name laurel is
>  equally applicable to both plants?

I cannot comment on what was actually used by entomologists, but in
the UK, the word "laurel", sometimes qualified, applies generally to
shrubby plants with glossy green leaves like those of _Laurus
nobilis_, a plant generally called, in Britain, the "sweet bay" (a
name also applied to _Magnolia virginina_), but also just the "bay" or
the "sweet laurel", and, of course, regularly used in flavouring stews
and casseroles, which makes me wonder about its insecticidal
properties (or, alternatively, about the toxicity of my stews and

Amongst the many "laurels" referred to in British publications, are:
1) the "cherry-laurel" (_Prunus laurocerasus_ - or _Laurocerasus
?vulgaris_), also called the "COMMON LAUREL" - my emphasis - (in, for
example, the RHS Dictionary of Garden Plants in Colour);  2) the
"Portugal laurel" (_Prunus lusitanica_); 3) the "spurge laurel"
(_Daphne laureola_); 4) the "Japan laurel" (_Aucuba japonica_); 5) the
"mountain laurel" (also used in the US) (_Kalmia latifolia_); and 6)
"sheep laurel" (also US) (_Kalmia angustifolia_).  In addition there
is the "magnolia laurel" or "laurel magnolia" (_Magnolia grandiflora_)

A good example, perhaps, of the importance of scientific nomenclature!

John McNeill

  John McNeill, Director Emeritus, Royal Ontario Museum,
  100 Queen's Park, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2C6, Canada.
  Tel. and fax # 416-586-5744  e-mail: johnm at

More information about the Taxacom mailing list