A traditional unit of distance equal to 2 yards or 6 feet (approx. 1.83 meters). The word comes from the Old English fæthm, meaning "outstretched arms" because a fathom is the distance between a man's outstretched fingertips. This is a generic unit that has been used in many cultures since ancient times. In England, the fathom was a common unit during Saxon times, and it continued to be used for many purposes through the medieval era. In fact, the length of the foot may have been defined, early in the twelfth century, specifically to assure that 1 foot = exactly 1/6 fathom. Today the fathom is used almost exclusively at sea, measuring water depth, the length of ships' cables, etc.