Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The furlong fights back

I marked my hundredth post with a celebration of the metric system slanted towards its technical benefits. My two-hundredth looks at the continuing metric/imperial divide

DRINK. “I can’t be bothered with litres of beer. I’ve got drunk on pints all my life.” Comment: They’re smaller - for timid drinkers.
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM You can’t say: “Give him 2.54 centimetres and he’ll take 1.60934 kilometres.” Comment: True, it’s a cliché.
DECIMALS WOULD SPOIL SONG LYRICS: “I lurve you/A bushel and a peck/Yuh bet yur purty neck I do.” Comment: none.
…COMPLICATE COOKING: Gram cake. Comment: Don’t lose it between your teeth.
…PERMIT COAL-HEAVER FRAUD: “I asked for a ton not a tonne.”/ “So here’s a handful of slack.” Comment: First define slack. Mini-coal? Nah, too boring.
…LEAD TO SOCIAL COWARDICE: “The barman’s got arms like ham hocks. Quick, what’s a firkin in metric?” Comment: An end to Morris dancing as we know it.
GOD ORDAINED METRICS “Ten tiny fingers/Ten tiny toes.” Comment: But didn’t Anne Boleyn have six on one hand?
GOOD PR Singer Lita Roza (Dark Ages pop) re-spelled her first name to get work in Northern working men’s clubs. Comment: Yet became unfamous in the sixties.
US PROBLEMS You pave a yard, you don’t mow it. However, you can read a meter. Comment: A metric USA will arrive with worldwide suffrage.


Plutarch said...

When I last rented an allotment, the secretary of the association, referred to its dimensions as 10 rods. He didn't mention poles or perches.

Visits to public lavatories gave rise to the euphemism "spend a penny". I have a feeling that the combination of inflation, decimalisation and the fashion for calling a spade a spade has by now removed the expression from the language.

Julia said...

What I find equally funny is the incredulity that continental Europeans bring to bear when they meet the imperial (or U.S.) system.

Case in point - I met a few years ago with the Swiss head of sales for a worldwide paper supplier to discuss US/European paper equivalents for a project we were working on. The man just would not believe that in the States 100# text and 100# cover were different weights. It took a few conference calls with his own colleagues until he was persuaded!

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: It's a failure of my only journalistic talent (ie, curiosity) that I never bothered to find out why, if rods, poles and perches are identical, there was any need to create two of these wilfully quaint units.

Julia: You'd have thought adoption of the metric system would have been a useful and demonstrative act in separating the US from its former colonial masters. And here's another US measurement oddity: suddenly, on interstates, expressways or thruways, drivers are alerted to a picnic area 1000 ft ahead. Feet! There seems little point in reverting to the smaller unit, given the speed at which cars travel

Sir Hugh said...

For Plutarch:

The spade in a lavatorial context is very relvant if you spend a night (or a penny) at a bothie in the Scottish wilderness.

marja-Leena said...

Ah, my pet peeve! I grew up with the inefficient imperial system in Canada. In 1970 we began a very slow and still incomplete transfer to metric. So many resisters! So we have a hodge podge of both, especially at the grocery store: butter is in pounds, margarine in kilos, produce and meat are posted in imperial but the checkout receipt is metric weight! I think it's a conspiracy by the retailers to confuse us so we can't compare for best deals! The building industry is even worse, 2 x 4's (lumber) are not 2" x 4" but less, and no sign of metric. Can you imagine measuring 7/150th of an inch in industry? Road signs and car odometers and gas at the pump are metric. But I'm guilty too - I know my own weight and height best in imperial.

Anyway, congratulations on your 100th post, BB! Wishing you many many more.

Avus said...

The Luddite speaks:

Metric is best for calculations (decimal system). But I still find Imperial best for visualisation, after all a mile was 1000 (mille) Roman double paces, a yard was one pace or the length of an arrow (clothyard - finger tips to shoulder), a foot was a foot and an inch was a thumb (Latin "unce") joint.
The definition of a metre (which is too long to go into here) just cannot be visualised.
Using a measure to cut wood, for instance, centimetres are too large and millimetres too small - fractions of inches are "chunkier" and easier to see (or do I need new glasses?)
My grandchildren work exclusively in metric, but when I ask them their size/weight they answer me in Imperial. Metric is scientific, Imperial is personal.
(That should put the cat amongst the pigeons!)

Barrett Bonden said...

M-L: TWO-hundredth post, please.

Avus: I take it this comment was transmitted from somewhere over the Indian Ocean. No, you're not a Luddite, you're a bibliophile who revels in history. And you're carefully avoiding some of the more whimsical features of the imperial system (not an adjective we should seek to popularise, anyway). I'm not sure the arrow / yard analogy is presently germane although it just so happens you've come to the right place with it. On certain days of the week men of English stock are entitled to use their longbows to kill Welshmen incautiously wandering the confines of Hereford Cathedral. However, I've always found that a .45 slug between the eyes does the job better.

Lucy said...

Ask Plutarch to tell you about the Mitteleuropean curator who lengthily refuted the 'Anne Boleyn had six fingers' story.

Stone are still the best unit to be personally weighed in, on account perhaps that the numbers sound smaller.