Origins of Sayings

Tonnage and Tons

The word “ton” is derived from a tun, a wine barrel. It gets its name from the French “tonnerre,” or “thunder,” from the sound the barrels made when rolled.

The word ton originally did not appear to have expressed weight. It was derived from the old English word "tun" which dates back to the Latin of early middle ages where the word "tunna" occurs, meaning barrel. And the barrel was used to carry wine.

The transport of wine had a great influence on the origin of tonnage. The weight per unit space of wine barrels required that a vessel have its entire hold filled with them in order to navigate safely.

In 1423, King Henry V of England decreed that wine should be in "tuns" of less than 252 gallons. Later, when trade expanded to the point that it became necessary to have an adequate measure of weight a vessel would lift as well as volume, a tun became a measure of weight of roughly 2,240 pounds.

In modern shipping, the volume of a vessel is known as "tonnage", although the cargo may not be wine.

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