A unit of length in English-speaking countries, at least as early as the 10ᵗʰ century – present, = 220 yards (since 1959 in the United States or 1963 in the UK, = 201.168 meters exactly). Today it is used almost exclusively to describe distances to be run in horse races. Abbreviation, “fur”.
The word comes from “furrow long”; see acre.
Cyril Hart¹ has pointed out the earliest known written record of the furlong as a unit of length, in the description of the boundary of Bury St. Edmunds in a charter dated 945:
...swa forþ an furlang be easten Bromleage...²
...so forth a furlong eastwards to Bromleage...
From the 9ᵗʰ to the 18ᵗʰ century, the Latin stadium and Greek stadion were ordinarily translated as “furlong”. The fact that the Roman mile passus = 8 stadia may have lead to the idea that the mile was 8 furlongs, and thus influenced the size of the English statute mile, which is also 8 furlongs. See R. D. Connor's discussion.
1. Cyril Hart.
London and Rio Grande: Hambledon Press, 1992.
2. P. H. Sawyer.
Anglo-Saxon Charters: an Annotated List and Bibliography.
London: Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks, viii, 1968.
In Scotland, a unit of length, = 40 falls = 740 feet = 225.552 meters.
In England, a unit of land area, = a square furlong = 10 acres.
In England, a unit of land area, = ⅛ acre.
FURLONG; this is Long-Measure; and one Furlong for the most part consists of 43 Poles, and every Pole 16 Foot and an half; as eight Furlongs makes one English Mile. It's otherwise the 8th part of an Acre; yet it's found by an old Book, Printed in Henry VIII.'s Time, that six hundred foot, (by five score to the Hundred) make a Furlong. Sometimes 'tis used for a piece of Land, of more or less Acres.
Notice that 43 poles each 16½ feet long makes a 709½-foot furlong and a 5676-foot mile. “43” is probably a typo. But the 600-foot furlong, and its 4800-foot mile, is worth some attention.
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Last revised: 3 February 2006.