When talking about distances (miles, kilometers, etc...), is there a word that describes the field that specializes in those sort of things.

I remember someone told me about this last week. I Googled it but couldn't find anything.

I would also like to know if that (possibly existing) word is popular or not.

Edit: I'm sorry about changing the checked answer. Next time I'll make my question clearer.

  • 1
    Geodesy deals with measuring distances, among other things Feb 5, 2012 at 20:59
  • Look in wiki for "metrology" and "ranging" and compare with your question, please. You have checked the wrong answer.
    – Gangnus
    Feb 5, 2012 at 22:21
  • Ok. I just unchecked that answer. I'm confused now. I asked this question because I wanted to write the sentence: "while you were lecturing me about ..." - "metrology" seems to fit perfectly so I thought that was the answer. I needed something more commonly used rather than super exact but less common. Feb 5, 2012 at 22:26
  • The metrology is not more common. It is a different thing. Survey is more common. Geodesy is the most common. If you'll read the wiki article on metrology, you'll see, that the definition there doesn't sit with the content. Metrology creates the base for all measurements of all other sciences, but metrology doesn't makes measurements for them. Metrology only sounds good :-)
    – Gangnus
    Feb 5, 2012 at 22:41
  • 1
    There is also MENSURATION ... 1. (Mathematics) the study of the measurement of geometric magnitudes such as length ... 2. the act or process of measuring; measurement
    – GEdgar
    Feb 6, 2012 at 14:31

5 Answers 5


Distance measuring is done by ranging. It's a well-established word with millions of hits on Google. Even the well-known radar originally stood for "RAdio Detection And Ranging".

Survey(ing) is a much broader term. It also measures horizontal and vertical angles, elevations, GPS coordinates, etc. Surveying is determined not by the tool, but by the goal — making a space model of something big, but not too big. A house or a land plot are subjects of surveying, but not a continent, which is the subject of another subdiscipline of geodesy, named astronomical geodesy. As for bacterias, they are measured by micrometry, if I remember correctly.

Metrology measures anything for the improvement of the tools and standards for the actual measuring. That includes distances, but also time, angles, temperature, current...

Geometry in the original sense was the same thing as survey today.

  • +1 because the activity of measuring earth-scale distances can indeed be called ranging, but historically it was perfectly normal to speak of surveying a country/continent. As the etymology of Jack Robbin's geometry makes clear, that was the grandaddy of them all. And per my own answer, I suspect ranging will be the barren child of this lineage! Feb 5, 2012 at 23:31
  • @FumbleFingers If you are talking of some complex activities, consisting of many measurements so, that among their results are distances, you are absolutely right. It is survey. Ranging is the process of measuring one distance. Of course, the process could be repeated. The triangulation, for example, has distances as result, too, but it is not ranging ( I had astro-geodesy as my first higher education. Its fun to recall my late teens )
    – Gangnus
    Feb 6, 2012 at 8:42
  • haha - while I was writing my first comment I was actually thinking of astro-geodesy as the next step! Conceptually, I mean - I've never come across the term before, so although I knew what I meant, I couldn't say it because I couldn't think of a short way to reference it in the amount of text space left to me in the comment! So, many thanks for expanding my vocab! Feb 6, 2012 at 13:40
  • I think, that being a foreigner, it is my first and last possibility to put a decent answer here. It's me who studies here.
    – Gangnus
    Feb 6, 2012 at 13:43
  • @RegDwight Ѭſ道♦ Thank you for your edition efforts. But I am afraid you have broken the last but not the least rule of editing. "always respect the original author". I am trying to use a living text. You have cut off all jokes and hints. I understand, that it is very difficult to correct errors and simultaneously keep the style, but maybe that is the reason to leave the text as it is? And I would not expect openly breaking the rules from a moderator.
    – Gangnus
    Feb 6, 2012 at 20:41

A metrologist (not to be confused with meteorologist) is a specialist in "the science of weights and measures or of measurement" (Merriam-Webster). A metrologist works in the field of metrology. A dimensional metrologist specializes in measuring distances and sizes.

Is the word 'popular'? It's not a word you're going to encounter very often, but the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) lists almost 70 instances of metrology in the literature since 1990.

Then again, note that 20 May is World Metrology Day, and celebrates the signing of the Metre Convention on that date in 1875.

  • I would say that while metrologist is not a common word, it would probably be understood by most well read people. The relationship to Metric helps, I think. Feb 5, 2012 at 21:38
  • Here's an advert in New Scientist 1982 by Searle R&D seeking a metrologist. But imho it's a fairly meaningless word without context - a person thus titled could just as easily be concerned with measuring weight, pressure, speed, luminosity, radioactivity, etc., rather than length/distance. Feb 6, 2012 at 3:28
  • Sorry, The definition quoted itself shows that metrology is the 'science of measurement', not restricted to 'measuring distances' alone.
    – Kris
    Feb 6, 2012 at 4:22
  • @Kris It doesn't require too strenuous an exercise of the imagination to reason that dimensional metrology is the specific specialty within metrology concerned with distances. The OP was browbeaten into accepting the wrong answer; ranging is the activity, not the field of study.
    – Gnawme
    Feb 6, 2012 at 7:06
  • @Gnawme. When I studied to be an astro-geodesist, ranging was a field of study, I even got some marks for it :-). Metrology is not more common, it is the more fundamental, or, in some sense, previous job. Every practical tool or procedure for measurement should be checked by a more precise one. The most precise ones are checked by people from a special sphere - by metrologists.They are also metering a meter standard in Cesium wave lengths. But their measurements never go out of their underground laboratories.
    – Gangnus
    Feb 6, 2012 at 13:51

The archetypal person who specialised in measuring distances between locations was a surveyor, being a person who surveys, esp. one whose profession is the surveying of land; an engineer who determines the boundaries and elevations of land or structures.

These days the "measuring of linear distance" component of the profession is far less remarkable, thanks to GLS/GSM satellite location systems. No new word is likely to arise, since it's now trivial.


Geometry - the study of measuring distances. It was invented by the ancient Egyptians and applied by land surveyors as a way of measuring land for tax purposes.

  • Haha - that's going back even further than surveying! Etymology notwithstanding, I think that for nearly everyone today geometry means studying/measuring angles, lengths of polygon sides, squares on hypotenuses, etc. across the width of an exercise book page, rather than across the surface of the earth! Feb 5, 2012 at 23:21
  • I would imagine that for those with a need to do so, i.e. subject matter experts (SMEs), geometry certainly includes measuring distances over and beyond the surface of the earth or the pages of some schoolboy's exercise books. We should not take pride in what we do not know, that is called being insular. Feb 6, 2012 at 2:14

Mensuration also seems to be a candidate.

  • Look better there - it is "Measurement of geometric quantities." Not only distances.
    – Gangnus
    Jan 22, 2014 at 16:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.