drawing of fist with raised thumb

A unit of linear measure in northern Europe and England during the Middle Ages. Imagine a fist held in a “thumbs up” gesture. The shaftment is the distance from the bottom of the fist to the tip of the outstretched thumb. It occurs in Anglo-Saxon written records as early as 910 and in English as late as 1474. Other spellings include schaftmond and scaeftemunde.

Two shaftments make a pes manualis, the foot measure made with the hands.



Þe mesur off þe weyis

Þe mesure of þe balk þat men weyis with sal be in lynth an elne and .j. quartar. Þe tong salbe lynth off a schaftmonthe and .j. ynche And þe nail off þe tong sal be set als ner þe balk as it may be set gudly. Þe strengis off þe balk sal be evyn elik lang with þe balk. and þe skalis elik land weyand hewy.

The dimensions of the beam of the balance that men weigh with shall be in length 1¼ ells. The tongue shall be in length a shaftment and an inch. And the nail of the tongue shall be set as near the balance beam as it may be well set. The strings of the balance shall be the same length as the beam. And the pans shall be equally heavy.

The Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland. Volume 1. A.D. MCXXIV–MCCCCXXII.
London: Great Britain Record Commission Publications, 1814.
Page 751.


Shafman, Shafmet, Shaftment, sb. the measure of the fist with the thumb set up; ab A.S. scœft-mund, semipes, [i.e. six inches.]

John Ray.
A Collection of English Words Not Generally used, with their Significations and Original, in two Alphabetical Catalogues, the one Of such as are proper to tbe Northern, the other to the Southern Counties…. 2nd edition.
London: Printed for Christopher Wilkinson, 1691.
from the edition edited by W. W. Skeat for the English Dialect Society.
Reprinted Glossaries.
London: Trubner, 1873 – 1874.


Sorry. No information on contributors is available for this page.

home | units index | search |  contact drawing of envelope |  contributors | 
help | privacy | terms of use