- an old English unit of length equal to 1/3 inch or about 8.5 millimeters. The custom of using seeds as units of length or weight is very common in farming societies. In Anglo-Saxon England, where barley was a basic crop, barleycorns played this traditional role. The weight of a barleycorn, later renamed the grain, is the original basis of all English weight systems including the older troy system and the later avoirdupois system. As a length unit, 3 barleycorns were equal to the Saxon ynce (inch). The English foot was actually defined as 12 of these ynces, that is, as 36 barleycorns.
Dictionary of units of measurement. 2015.