We have all kinds of odd measurements. Some are official, and some are colloquial. Some colloquial measurements are pure gold — and a "pisan zapra," is one.

Informal measurements can tell us a lot about a culture. Today, we seem to be pretty rushed. People take a "breath," or a "minute." (A "minute" counts as a colloquial measurement because when people are given a "minute" they usually take no more than fifteen seconds. We chop our minutes into quarters here.) On the other hand, there seem to be more relaxed cultures out there. In Sanskrit, the word "kalpa" means the passage of time on a scale that is cosmological.

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Distances also get local measurements. We used to estimate distances by how much time it takes to get there "as the crow flies." The Finns, on the other hand, have poronkusema, which is the distance a reindeer can travel without taking a break. These days, we sometimes measure distances in "a tank of gas."

Cooking has all kinds of colloquial measurements — a glug of oil, a pinch of salt, a handful of raisins, and couple of shakes of paprika.

Today I found my favorite measurement for a length of time. I like it both because it's extremely specific, and because I've been measuring it out nearly every morning since I was a kid, and never known it. A "pisan zapra," in Malay, means, "the length of time it takes to eat a banana." Officially, that's about two minutes. It usually takes me less time than that, but maybe I'm just too greedy.

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Image: National Cancer Institute

[Sources: Lost in Translation]