I mentioned this in a comment in my main journal, but I figure it's worth recording here as well.

The Clancy Brothers recorded an Ewan MacColl song, "Shoals of Herring," on their album The Boys Won't Leave the Girls Alone. There's a line in the song that I always heard as "with a hundred grand of the silver darlings" (meaning a hundred thousand). But the version of the lyrics posted at Cantaria has it as "a hundred cran."

At first I figured that must be a misprint; MW3 doesn't list the word "cran." But I checked OneLook Dictionary Search, and discovered that "cran" is the standard unit of measure for fresh-caught herring, about 45 gallons.

But how many herring is that? Luckily, itymbi foresaw that we might want to know, and gave an answer a couple years ago. It pointed to the cran page at the very useful (and previously unknown to me), which tells us that a cran can vary from 700 to 2500 herring, but averages around 1200.

So actually, a hundred cran is probably significantly more than a hundred grand of herring.

The page also clarifies that it's 45 wine gallons, equal to 37.5 imperial gallons.

Side note: In some sense, this doesn't fit my usual criterion of being a word that I haven't heard before; I've been hearing it since I was a kid. Except I didn't know I'd been hearing it 'til last night, so I figure that's close enough.

4 Responses to “cran”

  1. Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

    Willie Murray cut his thumb, couldn’t count the damage,
    Took the hide of an Ayrshire cow and used it for a bandage.
    His brother caught three hundred cran when the seas were lavish,
    Threw the bleeders back in the sea and went upon the parish.

    It’s no go the Herring Board, it’s no go the Bible,
    All we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle.

    It’s no go the picture palace, it’s no go the stadium,
    It’s no go the country cot with a pot of pink geraniums,
    It’s no go the Government grants, it’s no go the elections,
    Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.

    It’s no go my honey love, it’s no go my poppet;
    Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
    The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
    But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather.

    — From Louis MacNeice’s ‘Bagpipe Music’

  2. Jed

    Interesting; thanks!

    …I forgot to mention that one of the things I find fascinating about this word is that it’s so specific. It’s not a measure of fish in general, or even fresh-caught fish in general; it’s specifically herring. Why herring? There’s got to be a story here, but a desultory Google search isn’t turning it up. Anyone know?

  3. Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

    Not even the OED knows. My 1971 edition says ‘Etymology uncertain’. Origin seems to be Gaelic, in which there is a similar word, ‘crann’, meaning a measure of something.

  4. David CRAN

    Randomly, my surname is cran, and am searching across the net for different meanings, so far Herring measurement and relation to a Crannog (ancient man made fishing ilsand) is all I can come up with!


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