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League is a widely found but rarely used unit of measurement, measuring roughly "one hour's hike" in many definitions. It tends to mean around 3 miles, or 5 km, in English use.

Tolkien often wrote distances using leagues. For example, Gimli once described one of his journey's distances as "40 leagues and 2".

What does the 2 mean in this case? Is he simply saying 42?

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Yes, 42 :-).

It's an example of an archaism. Tolkien used them extensively in his writings. As this Oxford dictionaries blog article says:

Whatever Tolkien’s intentions and whatever one thinks of Middle Earth or outmoded expressions, archaic language is fundamental to what he called the sub-creation of this secondary world.

Digression:

The combination of 40 with this archaic construction is odd; it's surprising that Tolkien didn't say two score leagues and two. This would have been the more typical archaic way of phrasing it. For example, Lincoln began the Gettysburg address with:

Four score and seven years ago...

and the same format appears extensively in the King James Bible:

The days of our years are three score and ten

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  • Tolkien might have written "42 leagues", but that is too moodern. An older formula would have been "40 and two leagues", but he decided for "40 leagues and 2".
    – rogermue
    Commented Nov 23, 2014 at 16:17
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    Now, if I were a non-native speaker who had never heard of the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and saw the disparity of votes between yours and tchrist's I'd be inclined to think that this answer contains inaccuracies. It doesn't. It's a good, full answer and that is why I am leaving my comment here.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 13:41
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Yep, that’s right: the answer really is just 42. :)

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    Not really a good answer, but +1 just because the cultural reference made me smile. Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 4:03
  • So, you're saying that Gimli, Aragorn and Legolas' journey is the answer to The Question? ;-) Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 6:32
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    Guess we know the question now :) Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 9:40

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