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To Mark Twain

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Steamboats require a certain depth in order to travels safely and not run aground. At the time of Samuel Clemens, a steamboat needed 12 feet which is referred to as two fathoms in nautical terminology. Holding a graduated stick (in fathoms) in the water, is the way to check the depth in shallow riverbeds. When the water level reached the second mark, that meant the ship would be clear to pass. Twain refers to second and Mark Twain means "mark number two" [source].
A fathom is six feet (2 yards) and comes from the Old English word fæthm meaning outstretched arms. One's height is about the same as the length from hand to hand.
Depth of water might have been viewed in terms of how many people deep a body of water was.


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