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I have a question about the usage of the verb "measure" in this website:

Trafficking charges are as serious as it gets in the drug unit. If convicted of trafficking, a defendant is faced with a mandatory active jail sentence — the length of which depends on the level of trafficking and the substance alleged. These jail sentences are measured in years, not days, and the only discretion afforded to judges who are handing down the sentence is in the realm of substantial assistance, which means working for the state to help them catch other drug dealers.

I understand how to measure a distance, a length, or temperature. But "to measure a jail sentence" seems off. As always, this usage could not be found in dictionaries accessible to me. Could the usage be some sort of figurative extensions only known to native speakers?

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  • As a native speaker it seems more like dramatic flair than a common expression, but this is not an original usage. – MaxW Mar 25 '16 at 7:02
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    Let's try something simpler (because you seem to understand the basic sense of measure well enough already). Do you think this sentence is odd in anyway? Larger areas, such as parking lots, are measured in square feet, square yards, or square rods. – Damkerng T. Mar 25 '16 at 8:38
  • @DamkerngT. Often, it requires a conscious effort to find out the distance, length, or temperature of something. So, "to measure a distance, a length, or temperature" makes sense. But a jail sentence is always clearly specified, requiring no extra effort to find out how long the jail sentence runs. So, "to measure a jail sentence" seems weird. – meatie Mar 25 '16 at 18:41
  • Your headlinie is very ambiguous as sentence can be a term in grammar and also sentence by a law court. It would be better to say: Prison sentences measured in years. – rogermue Mar 26 '16 at 4:50
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A measurement is made up of two parts: the numerical value, for example 13.5, and the units, for example millimetres. It is possible to specify just the unit of measure, without actually taking a measurement. On a technical document, one might find a caption saying "All dimensions are specified in millimetres." but in normal conversation one would say that something is "measured in millimetres". Using the passive mood indicates that we are specifying the units, but may not actually be taking actual measurements.

If I said to you "We measure these things in millimetres", you would probably visualise me taking a micrometer and carefully measuring each tiny object.

If I said to you "These things are measured in millimetres", the meaning of it is not quite the same: no actual measurements take place, but I am suggesting that the appropriate unit of measure is a millimetre. From this, you can deduce that the things are quite small. If I said to you "These things are measured in kilometres", you can deduce that the things are pretty damn big.

The author is not saying that he wants to measure the jail sentence: he is simply specifying the units of measurement, as I did in the previous paragraph. He is doing this in order to giving you an impression of how long the jail sentence will be (pretty damn long!), without having to say exactly how long it is.

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  • Often, it requires a conscious effort to find out the distance, length, or temperature of something. So, "to measure a distance, a length, or temperature" makes sense. But a jail sentence is always clearly specified, requiring no extra effort to find out how long the jail sentence runs. So, "to measure a jail sentence" seems weird. – meatie Mar 25 '16 at 18:40
  • @meatie: I have added an extra paragraph to explain the difference between "to measure" and "to be measured in". – JavaLatte Mar 25 '16 at 19:24
  • @meatie the use in this case is to compare the sentence for this crime to other, lesser crimes. So while something like contempt of court may carry a sentence of 15 days, trafficking will be years. Sentences for a particular crime also vary depending on the circumstances of the particular event, how the judge feels, and other factors, so while we may know the length of any one sentence, the length of a set of sentences is more vague. – Tofystedeth Mar 25 '16 at 21:05
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It talks about how 'heinous' that crime is. Depending on a country, the sentences (i.e. punishment) of any crime are either for some days or for some years. Say, for stealing a wallet, it could be for some days.

But, in this case, the sentences are measured in years. Measurement here means the number of days/years. Smartly, the author convinced readers that trafficking charges are serious, and the jail sentences could be in years.

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