Ancient Roman roadmakers had a big job, keeping track of distances. The first major road, the Via Appia in AD 312, was 132 miles long and paved with blocks of stone. Measuring distance was done by the parade step of legionnaires in units of 1,000 paces (a pace was two steps - one by each foot). Soon the "milia passuum," or "thousand paces" was just "mile," or 1,680 yards.
However, our present mile is longer than the Roman one - 1,050 paces, or 1,760 yards. The reason for lengthening it was to make the unit equal to 8 English furlongs. (A furlong was the average length of a furrow in a plowed field.) Old Irish and Scottish miles were a good deal longer than the English: Ireland's was 2,240 yards and the Scottish mile 1,980 yards long.
'Land of the $10 bills'
One popular theory has it that the word for the South may have come from the word for a particular currency.
In the days before the Civil War, the Citizens Bank of New Orleans issued $10 bills (many banks issued currency). Since there were many French-speakers in Louisiana at the time, the notes prominently carried the word "dix" (pronounced "deese," in French) on the back, French for "10." English-speakers called the bills "dixies."
Theory has it that "the land of dixies" began as a term for the region where the bank notes circulated - first New Orleans, then all the American South. Dixieland!
SOURCES: The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins; Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable; The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society