“STOP THAT” yelled the King.
Everyone froze in their tracks.
The King seldom raised his voice to that sort of level. When he did, you’d know all about it if you didn’t IMMEDIATELY obey.
The Lord High Chancellor slowly lifted his head from looking at that delicious piece of cake (a king’s finger length it was) he’d been consuming with relish and looked at the King. “Sire” he began hesitantly, “what can I do to assist?”
The King looked at him suspiciously. After all this was the man who’d started it all. Back when he turned 13 and was newly crowned King. Back then it had seemed fun to change measurements to suit his growing body. After all when the big fat men realised they were 127 toes around they all went on diet to pretend they were not that big. And the fuss a few years later when he’d had a growth spurt that left him with huge hands and feet; that was when women discovered that the new size measurements for undergarments of the supportive variety left most of them as ‘half-a-handful’. That had been fun to watch.
But now it had gone too far.
“Stop comparing everything to bits of my anatomy” he roared!
Everyone stopped doing or thinking what they had been doing or thinking. This could be the end of the economy as they knew it. For seven and 11/12 years now they had all become accustomed to the shifting sizes, weights and other dimensions, as declared by their amused king and his mad Lord High Chancellor.
Each of them had used their position at court to pretend they understood and had the exact measure currently in use, while cheating each other and others at every turn. Imagine selling bread by the pan again, instead of using the kings hand weight. Imagine measuring by the hitch instead of by the toe (a measurement that has grown quite considerably in those years). And the more exotic measurements. Well, pretending knowledge and cheating on those had added greatly to their ever-growing fortunes!
They waited, anxious for the king’s next words. “It has become insufferable” he yelled. “Today I heard 3 cases in open court of people being cheated on bags of potatoes, each vendor pretending his weight is the king’s head. Three times I put my head on the balance to show my head does NOT weigh as much as those people claimed.”
“Chancellor – an immediate proclamation!” he called. As of today, anyone claiming to have the king’s measurements for ANYTHING will have their own head chopped off! Reinstate the old weights and measures.
The pan, the hitch, the furlong, the gross, instead of the toe, the head, the hand span, and the newer measures that had the women giggling in corners, and the men openly scornful.
Over the next few weeks several shopkeepers had to flee for their lives, if they forgot and referred to the kings measurements. Then on the fateful day the king went shopping for shoes. He liked to pretend he was just a normal person and wandered along the road, stopping to steal a grape here, and there one of those doughnut centres that had been called a rather embarrassing size, after all he was sure his were bigger than that. He remembered it and flushed, swallowing the thing whole.
He arrived at the footwear shop. The storekeeper was out, probably over the road at the pub, but his pretty daughter was there. The king sat down and said “Shoes! My size!” The pretty girl realising it was the king, flushed a delicate shade of pink, that made her even more attractive and said “What size would that be Sire?”
He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Here he realised he was caught by his own proclamation. If he said “7 toes” he knew he’d be placing the girl in a position to have her head chopped off. If he said what he’d been told had become the description for the length of his foot and another part of him – after he’d bedded that pretty seamstress who insisted on using her measuring tape to set the new standard he was sure this sweet young girl would have been both embarrassed and in the head-removal line-up. After all it was really that description that left him so embarrassed worrying if he’d have to produce that part of his anatomy to resolve problems brought to court.
Despite the fact she has the prettiest shape he’d seen that day, her face was also pretty, and kissing a dis-headed girl would not be as much fun as one still all in one piece.
So he looked her straight in the eye, sat on the waiting chair and said “as long as my foot”.
“Ah yes”, she replied “a foot-long shoe, fit for a king, and bending forward (not really to show off her full king’s hand-sized assets) she helped him into a very handsome looking pair of blue shoes.
And that is how 14 toes length came to be called 2 feet, and 7 toes length stopped being called after “you know what”.