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A 'country mile' is a term used casually in some areas of the English-speaking world to refer to a very great distance, but what's the origin of the term? Obviously 'mile' refers to what could be seen (from a human perspective) as a long distance, but why does the adjective 'country' combine to make it mean a very great distance?

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Perhaps a "Country mile" is longer than a mile in a town because country folk in rural areas became stronger walkers, used to travelling greater distances at greater speeds. Therefore a countryman's estimate of what was a mile would be longer than a town dweller's ...? –  ron Jun 4 '13 at 18:05
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up vote 12 down vote accepted

There are two possibilities: either the difficulty of terrain makes a country mile harder to travel; or before standardisation, miles were further.

An example of the first from Frederick de Kruger's 1829 The Villager's Tale

The travelling stage had set me down

Within a mile of yon church-town;

'T was long indeed, a country mile.

But well I knew each field or style;

An example of the second comes from The Treasury of Knowledge and Library of Reference in 1850:

Robin Hood shot a full mile; and, according to his bard, a north-country mile was equal to two statute ones.

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When I hear this phrase I am always reminded of when we would play games as kids and something slightly out of the rules would occur. It was a favourite gag for the offender to grin and declare "country rules", before continuing as if nothing had happened. For this reason I have always associated "country" with "approximated and generous". Completely anecdotal and a bit of a tangent as information, but it as a country dweller the first phrase has always informed my use of "a country mile".

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I have nothing but anecdotal evidence, having walked "a country mile." There are no mountains in the distance, just flat lands. The distance seems to go on for quite some time. It is an exaggeration of terms.

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Things are farther apart in the country. So, if you asked me where the gas station was. I might say, "Oh, it's right down the street". Right down the street to me, might mean 10 miles away. 10 miles in the city means a completely different part of town. 10 miles in the country, is right down the street. Right down the street is a country mile.

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It refers to the fact that due to the winding manner of the country roads, even though it may be a mile as the crow flies, it may take multiple miles to arrive by road.

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It was penned by the map maker Henry joist in1651. He set out the county of Essex. He calibrated his equipment incorrectly, as a result his mile was a mile and a half. The term for a distance longer than anticipated was originally an Essex mile, later changed to country mile.

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I don't buy this at all. Many references to this Henry Joist quote the same page from the Essex Herald. But that's a "spoof" online newspaper (apparently now incorporating The Landfill Tawny Echo). –  FumbleFingers Jun 3 '13 at 20:24
    
Well I just heard it on the bbc, that's a good enough reference for me. –  Stuey Jun 3 '13 at 20:42
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@ Stuey: Perhaps it was a tongue-in-cheek BBC piece. Follow those links and I'm sure you'll agree it's just so much tosh. –  FumbleFingers Jun 3 '13 at 20:47
    
@FumbleFingers - I assume you've seen youtube.com/watch?v=27ugSKW4-QQ and that was panorama. –  Chris H Oct 9 '13 at 8:47
    
@Chris: I'm not quite old enough to have seen it when it was originally broadcast in 1957. So I've seen it, but only in contexts where it's obviously an April Fool. Mind you, there's a village called Colgate a few miles from where I live. About once a decade on April 1st some new hack working for a local newspaper thinks of running a story about the toothpaste reserves being exhausted, and the mine being closed. I never believe them though - I reckon there's enough there to last us for centuries if we're careful. –  FumbleFingers Oct 9 '13 at 13:54
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A country mile is perhaps a far longer arbitrary distance than a proper mile for the considerably longer distances between homes and other settlements in the country than in less rural areas.

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A country mile is an exaggerated distance. Mile is from the Latin for 1,000 paces [mille passuum] and has become standardized in English as 1,760 yards. The term "country mile" may be by analogy to a nautical mile (one minute of a great circle of the earth; fixed at 6,080 feet), an Irish mile (2,240 yards), a Scottish mile (various, including 1,976 yards), or it may be because the winding character of many country roads requires a long distance to be traversed in order to travel a mile as the crow flies.

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This is an interesting question. I don't have a citation for you, but I have always understood this to refer to the fact that going a mile cross country is much more arduous than the same distance over a paved road, with many more twists and turns, not to mention thickets, streams and what have you.

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