One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Originally: †a unit of length based on the breadth of a hand, although varying in size according to period and locality; four digits, equal to three inches (approx. 7.8 cm); also figurative; compare "hand", "palm"; (obsolete). In later use: a distance or length likened to the width of the hand.
Mid 16th century; earliest use found in The New Testament. In some forms from hand + breadth.
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