Carolyn Solon loves units of measure. She believes that your way of thinking is heavily influenced by the sorts of units you use, not to mention how scientifically useful a solid understanding of units can be.
We’ll start with…
Nah, not that Batman. The costumed hero was created in 1939. The unit of measure was already in widespread use in the 14th century.
The batman was an important unit of weight in the Ottoman Empire, from eastern Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia. It was mostly used to sell dry goods such as silk, seed, and food. The name seems to have evolved from the Arabic unit “the mann,” a unit name still used in Afghanistan.
In India under British Rule, they called it the “maund” and measured it with these cool dumbells:
Like most units of measure before the modern era, there were many different weights that defined a batman, anywhere from 2kg to 25kg. Early in its history, it was closer to about 3.0kg.
The many contentious uses of the batman are amusing. In Persia, for example, there were two batmans (batmen?): the Great Batman and the Lesser Batman. No, that doesn’t describe Christian Bale and Adam West. Instead, a Great Batman (the Batman of Churay) weighed double the Lesser Batman (the Batman of Taurus).
The batman has divisions: it contains “6 rattels, 300 derhams, 600 muscals, or 3600 dungs.”
In slightly more modern terms, a batman was equal to 6 okes, each oke being 400 drams (“Dram!” is one of Solon’s favorite swears when she is in mixed company). A unit called the dram was used in the USA as recently as the mid-twentieth century.
My favorite division of the batman? The “pood.” It’s so fun to say! 1 Tatar Batman = 1000 pood. A kilopood, if you will. The pood is further divided into 40 “funt,” which I didn’t use as a swear in the book, but perhaps I should if schools won’t ban my book for it.
The batman is itself a division of the artaba, used in Egypt where Solon bred her virus. The artaba is the equal of 9 batman.
You can view even more arcane subdivisions on Wikipedia or sizes.com.
So, as you can see, there were a lot of definitions for what constituted a batman, many of them conflicting and none of them involving capes or batarangs. To make things worse, there was even a Central Asian unit of area called the batman: one batman of area was the amount of farmland that could be seeded with enough seed mass to weigh one batman.
Too confusing? Fast forward to Turkey, 1933, where all the old values of the units were actually banned from use during a metrification process. The new value was placed at exactly 10kg metric.
“Comic Art – Batman by Jim Lee (2002)” by Apparent file taken from DC Comics official website. Original file would have been placed on DC’s site for promotional purposes.. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Comic_Art_-_Batman_by_Jim_Lee_(2002).png#/media/File:Comic_Art_-_Batman_by_Jim_Lee_(2002).png
By Booradleyp (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons