BG 202 – Tons

What about that ton again?
What is it? What does it measure again? And how much does it measure again?
Let’s get it straight…

When talking about weight, a Dutch ton (metric ton) is equal to one thousand kilograms (often abbreviated as kilo or kg).
So: 1 ton = 1.000 kg.
That sounds simple, but from an international perspective it is somewhat more complicated.

The weight unit ‘ton’ can have different meanings in English (lbs = pounds):
1 ton = 1 ‘short ton’, US = 2,000 lbs = 907,18 kg
1 ton = 1 ‘long ton’, UK = 2,240 lbs = 1.016 kg
1 tonne = 1 ‘metric ton’ = 2,204.62 lbs = 1.000 kg

So what about that short and long ton?
The ‘short ton’ comes from the word ‘tun’, a large barrel used for making wine. Such a barrel could hold about 2,000 pounds of wine. It was originally a unit of volume and later became a unit of weight.
The ‘long ton’ originated when the wine makers’ unit was standardized.
The ton was 20 ‘hundredweights’. However, the US and the UK used different weight units. US 1 hundredweight was 100 pounds, but UK 1 hundredweight was 8 stones (1 stone = 14 pounds) and therefore 112 pounds.

In Dutch, we also used the word ‘pond’ for a long time, meaning half a kilogram.
It was roughly derived from the English pound.
In elementary school, I learned: two hands make a kilogram, one hand makes a ‘pond’ (2 in a kilogram), and one finger makes an ‘ons’ (5 in a pond, 10 in a kilogram).
We don’t do that anymore because it’s too confusing.

And you may have already noticed: we also write those numbers differently.
English speakers use a comma to indicate thousands, while we Dutch speakers use a period.
We also use decimals exactly the other way around: English speakers use a period, while we use a comma. That is why we sometimes refer to ‘numbers after the comma’, when we mean decimals.
Makes sense, right?

So that was the weight unit ton.
But the word ‘ton’ can also be used for other units of measurement.
For example for money:
In Dutch informal speech, a ton is one hundred thousand euros (1 ton = 100,000 euros).
A ‘7 ton truck’ can therefore have two meanings:
either it weighs 7.000 kg, or it cost 700.000 euros.

The fact that we also use the word ton for currency has two historical reasons:
– In 1839, the weight of the silver gulden (guilder) was reduced to exactly 10 grams.
So a ton at that time was 100.000 guldens x 10 grams = 1.000 kilograms.
– And 1.000 times a banknote of 100 guldens (for a long time the banknote with the highest value) is also 100.000 guldens, and was therefore also called a ton.

In English, ‘a ton of money’ does not mean a specific amount, but simply a lot of money.
And in the UK, a ‘ton’ is an informal word for £100 (100 pounds).

Furthermore, a ton can be, among other things, a unit of volume for ships, a certain form of ship’s buoy, (starting with a capital letter) a boy’s name, and of course the well-known wooden barrel (whether or not for wine).