span, noun1

Forms:
Formerly also spann.
Plurals:
spans, or (rarely) unchanged.
Origin:
DutchShow more Dutch, team, pair of draught animals, from spannen to unite, fasten.
1. A team of oxen or other draught animals, consisting of two or more yoked pairs; transferred sense (rare), the harness or other equipment for a span of draught animals (see quotation 1849).
1806 J. Barrow Trav. I. 3Such a carriage is commonly drawn by a team, or span as it is termed in the colony, of ten or twelve oxen.
1812 A. Plumptre tr. of H. Lichtenstein’s Trav. in Sn Afr. (1928) I. 192The strength of the oxen was so much exhausted by the exertions they had been obliged to make in the midst of a hot sun, that they could not get on the rest of the way without a double Spann.
1822 W.J. Burchell Trav. I. 134Mr Mong, the Boode, had informed me that proper oxen might be obtained in the Bokkeveld, at the price of three hundred rix dollars for a span (a team).
1837 F. Owen Diary (1926) 11Great difficulty was experienced in ascending the opposite bank, one span of oxen being obliged to help the other.
1849 J.D. Lewins Diary. 30See and get fm. Kew the span of wagon riems he has for sale.
1851 T. Shone Diary. 15 Oct.This day Thurston return’d home to procure more cattle for his waggon, the kaffers having stolen 9 of his span.
1861 Lady Duff-Gordon Lett. from Cape (1925) 33The teams of mules (I beg pardon, spans) would delight you — eight, ten, twelve, even sixteen sleek, handsome beasts.
1879 R.J. Atcherley Trip to Boërland 47A full span of oxen consists of about sixteen or eighteen, yoked together in pairs along a chain called the Trektouw.
1882 C. Du Val With Show through Sn Afr. II. 40To each of these waggons was attached a span of probably not less than sixteen oxen, yoked in pairs.
1896 R. Wallace Farming Indust. of Cape Col. 269Sixteen is the usual number of a span of oxen, though on very heavy roads twenty may be yoked together.
1907 W.C. Scully By Veldt & Kopje 270The convoy included eight wagons and sixteen spans of oxen.
1926 P.W. Laidler Tavern of Ocean 138Post wagons left the Cape for Stellenbosch every Wednesday and Saturday at five a.m. in summer and seven a.m. in winter, each drawn by a span of twelve to sixteen oxen.
1941 C.W. De Kiewiet Hist. of S. Afr. 250As long as a span of powerful Afrikander oxen was considered a valuable possession, there was less room for select dairy cattle.
1961 T. Macdonald Tvl Story 48I grew mealies, ploughing with two spans of donkeys and an ox.
1972 L.G. Green When Journey’s Over 50There is little rest for the weary voorloper from the time he rounds up his scattered span in the morning to the inspanning, the outspanning, the grazing and watering of the team at night.
1979 A. Gordon-Brown Settlers’ Press 15He set out from Grahamstown with three wagons and six span of oxen with trade goods (£700) presumably supplied by local merchants.
1994 M. Roberts tr. of J.A. Wahlberg’s Trav. Jrnls 1838–56 55When the oxen arrive, Oosthuizen offers me his own span.
2. transferred sense. A team or work-gang of prisoners or reformatory inmates; any team, gang, or group.
1893 C.A. Goade in Cape Illust. Mag. May 313Let me explain that all the Convicts are divided into ‘spans’ of about 50 men each. Each span has a separate ward and is superintended by an overseer.
1900 F.R.M. Cleaver in M.M. Cleaver Young S. Afr. (1913) 75I suppose the old span in the Specials (police) is getting less and less as they are drafted off to the front from time to time.
1913 Nongqai 12 Nov. 46These ‘spans’..help to maintain themselves (owing to being let out on payment), thereby becoming..a less burden to the State than others..where improvements in roads, etc., are performed gratis.
1939 M. Rorke Melina Rorke 82The African wagon is a huge affair with buck-rail bed, eight feet wide by sixteen feet long..and three span of oxen.
1948 O. Walker Kaffirs Are Lively 171Most of them..join the gaol-gangs which can be hired out by the ‘span’, like oxen, to private persons and public bodies anxious to use a bit of cheap labour.
1949 H.C. Bosman Cold Stone Jug (1969) 70I was informed that I had been given a change of labour. ‘What span, sir?’ I asked of the head-warder who imparted this information to me.
1953 Drum Jan. 14Boys of 10 and 11 years have threatened grown-ups...‘Be careful, mister. I’ll bust you, my span’s Crimson League.’
1954 H. Nxumalo in J. Crwys-Williams S. Afr. Despatches (1989) 316After breakfast we were divided into many work spans (parties). I spent my first day with a span cutting grass, pulling out weeds with my hands and pushing wheelbarrows.
1969 A. Paton Kontakion 88When all the boys had paraded with their spans, they were counted. If the count proved correct, the two gates were opened and the spans marched out to work on the reformatory farm.
1974 B. Head in S. Gray On Edge of World 71This particular work span was known as Span One. It was composed of ten men and they were all political prisoners.
1976 Sunday Times 10 Oct. 6One man in the group worked in a span outside the prison and another was a cleaner in the hospital.
1980 A.J. Blignaut Dead End Rd 79Would be like asking his span of labourers to pay for a gift, or pansela as they called it.
1980 A. Paton Towards Mountain 145Each boy paraded with his own span...Afrikaans was the language of the reformatory.
3. figurative. slang. Especially in the language of children: a lot, very much.
1960 [see lekker adjective sense 1 a].
1963 M.E. McCoy Informant, Port ElizabethI’ve found myself a real honey of a vanity case for my birthday. So if Ma agrees, I’ll get it, it’s R7.50, rather a span, that’s the snag!
1965 S. Dederick Tickey 43It’s the most beautiful dress I’ve ever seen in all my life. Thank you! Thanks a span!
1970 A. Van der Berg Informant, PretoriaSpan, very much, a lot. Thanks a span for the lovely gift. That man has spans of kids.
1975 Blossom in Darling 26 Feb. 111In the middle there’s this like platform all set up with ropes and floodlights and a span more folks packed around on folding chairs...Killer Katz’s got a tattooed blonde laying across he’s chest too what undulates every time he flexes he’s muscles. She gets a span of titters.
1976 Blossom in Darling 4 Feb. 87One love-letter..ending off Spans of kisses, yores for ever.
1980 R. Govender Lahnee’s Pleasure 29Sunny: Plenty of dames too, huh? Johnny: Span.
1981 Sunday Times 19 Apr. 4Although we will miss the Cape a span, it is important we operate from Johannesburg.
1981 [see stop sense 2].
A team of oxen or other draught animals, consisting of two or more yoked pairs; transferred sense (rare), the harness or other equipment for a span of draught animals (see quotation 1849).
A team or work-gang of prisoners or reformatory inmates; any team, gang, or group.
a lot, very much.
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