In the English-speaking world, 16th? – 19th centuries, a unit of word count. Before typewriters and computers, legal documents had to be copied by writing them out by hand. The clerks who did so were paid by the folio, which was a specified number of words; in the United States, 1 folio = 100 words. The Oxford English Dictionary observes, “Many legal documents of 16th century are found to be written in pages of 12-15 lines, each line containing 6 words. This is doubtless the origin of the above sense.”
In England, the size of the folio varied with the type of law: 72 words in common law, 80 words in Exchequer, and 90 words in Chancery.¹
Clark² says 1 folio “= 72 words, formerly 100 words.”
1. Alfred J. Martin.
Up-to-date Tables of Imperial, Metric, Indian and Colonial Weights and Measures…
London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1904.
2. Latimer Clark.
A Dictionary of Metric and Other Useful Measures.
London: E & F.N. Spon, 1891.
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Last revised: 3 April 2011.