What Is a Country Mile? – Origin & Meaning

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Idiomatic expressions are words and phrases that create figurative connections in speech and text for detail and a deeper understanding of the author’s message.

Idioms often have fascinating literal origins, some of which are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. The phrase a country mile is a couple hundred years old, at the very least, possibly older. It is a way to exaggerate distance and is a famous saying in American baseball.

Learn about its origins and meaning below.

What Is the Meaning of a Country Mile?

What Is a Country Mile Origin Meaning

When you use the term a country mile, you express a hyperbole or exaggeration of distance.

The literal use infers that a country mile is the fact that most country roads are not in a straight line. Instead, roads in the country tend to meander up and down and all around. This makes it seem as if a mile in the country takes longer to cross than a straight mile in the city.

As an idiom, the figurative use of a country mile highlights something of tremendous or unexpectedly long distance.

For example:

  • As the marathon runners crossed the finish line, it was evident that the winner had beaten the rest by a country mile, displaying incredible speed and endurance.
  • In the spelling bee competition, Emily’s proficiency in spelling was unmatched, and she won the title by a country mile, leaving her competitors trailing behind.
  • She won the footrace by a country mile, obliterating her opponents by a distance that broke track records.

How Long Is a Country Mile?

Although the general consensus is that a country mile is unexpectedly longer than a measurable mile, documentation of its actual distance is hinted at in various early texts.

In 1851, Samual Maunder called “a north-country mile… equal to two statute ones” in his book “The Treasury of Knowledge and Library of Reference.”

In 1863, the distance was again mentioned in the Newcastle Chronicle newspaper:

The spot was stated on the placards to be a mile from the town, but…which generally goes to a “country mile” or what is termed in Scotland “a mile and a buttock” — in fact, nearer two miles than one.

The Origins of a Country Mile

Country Mile Ngram
Country mile usage trend.

The origins of a country mile are muddied. However, the term is likely derived when the English Statute Mile was established in 1593. Before this time, there was no consistent measurement of a mile. And it probably took rural inhabitants longer to adjust to the accepted length than urban dwellers: hence a country mile versus an urban one.

The oldest reference to a country mile was published in 1829 in Frederick de Kruger’s poem “The Villager’s Tale“:

The travelling stage had set me down
Within a mile of yon church-town;
‘T was long indeed, a country mile.
But well I knew each field or style;

Although the term originated in England, it quickly spread to neighboring English-speaking countries and across the ocean to America. It has taken on various other names, such as a farmer’s mile, Welsh mile, and Scottish mile, but all mean the same thing: to exaggerate a distance.

In America, it has become a famous catchphrase in baseball when a hit is knocked out of the park. It was first used in this manner in 1935 in the “Saturday Evening Post” when sports reporter Peter Tamony wrote:

“He is the answer to a scout’s prayer. He can throw a baseball into a barrel at 100 yards, is a ten-second sprint man, and can hit a ball a country mile.”

Let’s Review

The idiomatic phrase a country mile likely originated in the 16th century. It was used to define the differences between rural and urban travel after a universal measurement of a mile was officially recorded.

The first documented use of the term figuratively was in the early 1800s. And it quickly spread across the UK and other English-speaking countries, where it is sometimes called by other names.

Today, it is a famous catchphrase in American baseball and serves as a hyperbole to exaggerate a distance physically and metaphorically.