History of "flock" as a unit of measurement?

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History of "flock" as a unit of measurement?

Post by Umbrascitor » Sun Sep 11, 2016 6:07 pm

I'm trying to find information on how the word "flock" was traditionally used as a specifically defined quantity (as opposed to its current meaning as an arbitrarily large group). I've found a number of internet sources (typically, comprehensive lists of weights and measures) that all seem to have the same nearly copy-pasted definition of "flock":
flock: an old English unit of quantity equal to 2 score or 40.
I can't seem to find any information more specific than this, and considering that all of the sources I've found seem to be parroted from each other, I'm wondering where this little factoid originally came from. What trades used the "flock" as a measure? What was it used as a measure of?

The best lead I have (and indeed, the most intuitive one) is from the likely origin of the word "score," which was related to "counting large numbers (of sheep, etc.) with a notch in a stick for each 20." This suggests that two score sheep might have composed a standard "flock," which makes sense, but so far I haven't found any primary evidence that the word was actually used in this way.

If anybody knows of a reference that could help me here, or could point me in the right direction, I would greatly appreciate it.
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Re: History of "flock" as a unit of measurement?

Post by Phil White » Sun Sep 11, 2016 8:47 pm

Hi and welcome!

I had never heard of this one before. After a small amount of research, I suspect very strongly that there is no substance in it.

As you say, the sources that give this "unit of measurement" appear to have copied it from each other or a common source, and all the citations appear to be very recent.

None of the major dictionaries that I consulted gave this meaning, which makes me extremely suspicious. One 2015 source I found simply claims that "The Anglo Saxons defined a flock as two score, or forty", without any substantiation. This is not borne out by the use of "flocc" in Old English texts, nor by the definition in Bosworth-Toller, which defines "flocc" solely as a group or crowd of people, or a troop of soldiers, of unspecified number.

Until I see any evidence of the term "flock" ever actually having been used in this way, I am unconvinced by the claim that it has this meaning.
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Signature: Phil White
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Re: History of "flock" as a unit of measurement?

Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon Sep 12, 2016 3:08 am

So would you say, Phil, that the woolliness of the theory which Umbrascitor references is worthy only of floccinaucinihilipilification?
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End of topic.
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