I hate the metric system

metre etalonI know the title probably upset all my friends who are either European, or scientific, or of the forward thinking academic persuasion.  But I do…I hate the metric system.  Maybe not with the burning fire of a thousand white hot suns, but it is definitely not a “live and let live” relationship.  I prefer the other way…the old way…I am not even sure what it is called…I think it goes by names like the Imperial system…or Apothecary Measurements…and stuff like that.  Since the rest of the world seems to have abandoned it (except for England with regard to some things)…I propose claiming this unwanted or unused thing and renaming it the American system.

Why do I dislike the metric system so much?

Perhaps I am already crotchety and set in my ways:  In the immortal words of Grampa Simpson, “My car gets thirty rods to the hogshead..and that’s the way I like it!!”

Perhaps I take joy in exasperating my scientific friends by asking them to convert units of measurement into terms I understand: “I see, but what is that in furlongs per foot/pound?”

But perhaps maybe, just maybe I can muster a quasi-philosophical argument that sounds less like an excuse and more like a reason…and here it goes:

The metric system is a made-up, arbitrary system based on the whim of some random person.  I can hear him now pontificating in a snooty French Accent, “It’s called a meter, and it is three inches longer than a yard just to upset those Americans.”  or “It’s called a kilogram.  It is a little more than twice as heavy as a pound making conversion between the two frustrating as all get out.”

In short, the metric system is detached from the world.  It has the cold sterility of enlightenment objectivism.  It is a perfect system for the idealized world of clockwork deism. Yes, it may be perfect, but so is Esperanto, and you don’t hear too many people these day speaking that made-up “perfect” language.

The other way…the correct way…the American way… is incarnational.  It is connected to the earth, to people, and to how they live their lives.  How tall is that horse?  Lets count it in lengths of my hand  An acre:  the amount of land a man could plow in a day.  How long is that?  Lets walk it off it feet.   Teaspoons and tablespoons, I have them in my house.  No need for specialized equipment…just grab one and start spooning  A mile?  Originally from Latin mille passum which means “a thousand steps.”  Even other more obscure measurements make sense once you understand their origins.  A league, as in 20,000 of them under the sea, equals 3 miles.  Why 3 miles?  It’s the distance a man can walk in an hour.

So that’s my argument.   Learn your weight in stones.   Measure your dog in hands.  Develop a new unit of measurement based on how far a car on the interstate travels in an hour.  Reject the metric system.

And don’t get me started on Celsius…..

29 responses

  1. Haha, brilliant post! No offence taken from this european wordpresser :)! feel exactly the same – my weight is in stone, a horse in hands, and the beach 400 yards from the house!

  2. I weigh 9 stone, give or take a pebble. I think my burrito at dinner was at least a kilogram, though.

    I’ve never heard this argument for our system, and it is indeed a good one. I like it when nature trumps science.

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  4. The metric system is also deeply rooted in the real world, and in fact in a much less arbitrary way than the Imperial System. Instead of measuring someone random Brit’s hand or the King’s hand, the metric system (and Celsius, for that matter), tried to connect many real-world referents together. One centiliter is equal to one cubic centimeter, and when that space is filled with water at its freezing point, it has a mass of one gram. Water, light, and the Earth itself (measured from the North Pole to the Equator) are the main sources of the metric system, but the key advantage was that they are interconnected. Instead of having differences between ounces and “fluid ounces,” the metric system attempts to present the world in units that are easily converted between mass, energy, space, and time.

      • Dear Old Fossil. It is as you know and have experienced a tough old game. The free mraket, smaller budgets etc opens the industry to non-card holders. This brings with it many good and bad things, one of the bad things you have listed. One of the good things is that certain great projects would never have been made if people had to work within the equity guide lines. Another point I would like to make is that you should not wait to be told your an actor, a card, training, showreel, merits etc should not define you as an actor ..you become an actor when you have respect for the craft, others and the fact its a tough industry. As for approaching Downtown Abbey etc, your agent or you could send your info to the casting director or you could send it directly to the production office. Either way it should get reviewed. Keep on thriving dear Old Fossil.

    • EXCELLENT reply. Only dummies prefer the King (American) than medical/science/military. Mostly because they cannot easily accept “change”, but I ask them: why do you use a computer or mobile phone? That’s not the way it used to be. See – people accept what is easy to accept.

      Although the USA signed a treaty that they would be completely metric by 1976 (then later signed by Gerald Ford), I’m sure if *another* country didn’t live-up to an American treaty – war would follow … .but those arrogant Americans are the big bullies. But I always say to them: ALL HAIL THE KING!

  5. Pssh Dr. Jones, please. Who was it that said “Americans built on low, but solid ground?” Yes they followed nature. Yes, they are practical. Blah, blah, blah. Hahaha Why do you guys have to always be so different?

  6. “Yes, it may be perfect, but so is Esperanto, and you don’t hear too many people these day speaking that made-up ‘perfect’ language.”

    Actually, Esperanto has two million speakers. For comparison, Iceland has only 320,000.

  7. “In short, the metric system is detached from the world. It has the cold sterility of enlightenment objectivism. It is a perfect system for the idealized world of clockwork deism.”

    This is ridiculous. Go to pretty much any country other than the USA. People use the metric system everyday in the real world. Tell them about inches, gallons or ounces and you’ll get blank stares.

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  9. First of all, one can Google the internet to find reasons to hate the metric system and your tired old excuses abound on anti-metric websites. They are nothing new and in truth are both in error and a real stretch of basic intelligence.

    Second, The metric system is far from being arbitrary, where as the pre-metric units are nothing but arbitrary. All the metric base units are defined from fixed points in nature, such as the oscillations of the caesium atom or the speed of light. USC units are defined arbirarily from objects that vary from time to time and place to place. Whereas metric is consistent and coherant, USC is the exact opposite.

    Metric is not detached from the world, it is USC and the US that is. The whole world is metric, not just Europe or France, but everybody. Even the US is partially metric even if in secret and behind the scenes. The French may have been responsible for bringing the system into use, but it was the Germans who spread it around the world through their technical standards, first DIN, now ISO and IEC.

    A person speaking in a French accent would never refer to a metric unit by equating to something dead and obsolete. They would define the metric unit by its legal definition. The metric system is also evolving and keeping up with the times. In the next year or so, most of the metric units will be redefined with newer and more precise definitions based on natural constants. Your friends would do you a service if they told you that if you don’t understand what they are saying it is your loss and their gain. They should also be insisting you speak to them in metric or keep your mouth shut as your use of non-metric is an embarrassment.

    The failure of the US to metricate has resulted in the collapse of the American industrial economy. Unable to sell inches to the word, American business has either gone out of business or exported its jobs to metric countries in order to avoid metric haters like yourself. So opposing metric doesn’t make the US a richer nation but poorer as poverty continues to increase and the only jobs created are burger flippers and barmaids. All low paying minimum wage jobs. While the economy of the world is going up, the economy of the US is mired in depression. So, yes, keep hating the metric system, you are helping spread your former wealth around the world at your expense.

  10. Please add to the list of upset friends everyone who works in automotive, pharmaceutical, electronics, or most multinational companies. Many Americans work in metric, whether or not they “live” it at home.

    The US version is officially called Customary, while the UK version is called Imperial. Naturally they DON’T agree, no national systems of measurement agree, only the metric system. The US gallon and bushel are different from the UK version, and Americans don’t use stones, which leads to the hundredweight and ton being different. Until 1959, the foot and the pound didn’t even agree (exactly), when the English-speaking nations held a conference and defined them in metric. The foot is no longer the King’s foot, but a perfectly arbitrary 0.3048 m, and the pound, 0.45359237 kg. There are no longer physical standards for Customary and Imperial units of measure, they are just declared silly decimal fractions of the metric system used by the rest of the world (not just the much-hated EU).

    World trade would literally be a Tower of Babel if everyone used their own national measurement system, or worse yet, their own personal body parts, as units of measurement. Esperanto hasn’t really caught on as the world language of commerce, English has. However, it is time to face the fact that metric has caught on as the measurement system of world commerce; it would frankly be easier to use it for everything like 95% of the world does.

    NOTE: The US was an original signatory of the treaty of the Meter in 1875, and, as a member, represented in all decisions regarding the modern metric system, known as the International System of Units (the SI) as are all other signatories. It has not been a “French thing” since 1875 but an International thing. Perhaps some time spent learning about it instead of hating it would be beneficial.

  11. Dear Mr. Jones,

    The title of your article did not upset me because I am European (I am U.S. born), scientific (and proud of it) , or academic (which my late parents taught me was a virtue) . It upset me because I am a pharmacist, and I am fighting hard to get the U.S. onto one system of measurement—the metric system—for the sake of our healthcare system and the lives it is presumed to protect. I am writing to suggest to you that your prejudices have the power to kill.

    Because our culture tolerates two different systems of measurement, and people both walk into, and work in, hospitals with kilograms beside pounds, and milliliters beside teaspoonfuls, we continue to tolerate a BUILT-IN danger of medication errors, some of which are harmful or fatal. By rights, the Affordable Care Act should have included an effective new metric conversion act, since the presence of more than one measurement system in our country often makes healthcare not only less affordable, but also more risky.

    One teaspoonful is approximately equal to five milliliters. If a prescription for a baby, stating a dose of one milliliter of digoxin oral solution, is entered incorrectly on a pharmacy computer because the shorthand for “teaspoonful” gets confused with the shorthand for “milliliter,” the resulting error in the labeled instructions to the little patient could be a five-fold overdose of this very potent drug, and the baby will be a baby forever.

    In the hospital setting, the doses of powerful medications, such as anti-cancer drugs, are often established according to the number of milligrams per kilogram of patient body weight. Since about two pounds equal one kilogram, a misstatement of the patient’s weight in pounds instead of kilograms can spell disaster.

    In the absence of changing over to the metric system nationwide, there is progress being made to improve the odds. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices has recommended that teaspoonfuls be a thing of the past on all prescriptions and at every level of their handling. A very few hospitals have moved to start a metric culture within, so only kilograms are recorded for weight. But every time people read an article such as yours—articles that appeal to antiquity instead of safety—those of us who are trying to protect lives from the peril of systemic measurement errors take another step backwards from the life-saving metric system changover we need to be absolutely sure. Please consider that you, or someone you love, may fall victim to the system defect you yourself are defending.

    Paul Trusten, R.Ph.

    P.S.: The metric system of measurement became America’s preferred system of measurement by an act of Congress in 1988. Therefore, the metric system IS the American system.

  12. I think you find the US Customary system “natural” only because it is what you are used to. Actually, I not only think it, I know it.

    A meter is approximately the length of a long step, a centimeter is approximately the width of the fingernail on my little finger, etc. It’s easy to find relations to real world stuff if you use the system every day.

    I also think your comparisons such as “It’s called a kilogram. It is a little more than twice as heavy as a pound making conversion between the two frustrating as all get out.” are pretty silly since the same thing could be said the other way around (“It’s called a pound, it’s a little less than half as heavy as a kilogram making conversion between the two frustrating as all get out.”).

    • Exactly right, Dan. Not only “could be” said the other way around, but legally ARE said the other way around. The US has not had primary Customary standards since 1893 (Mendenhall Order). The definitions were tweaked in 1959 (changing Customary) to agree with other English-speaking nations that hadn’t metricated yet.

      The current legal definition of the foot and pound are 0.3048 m and 0.453 592 37 kg, respectively. For the amusement of the OP, the US Customary system is entirely backed by metric standards (the system he hates) originally received as a result of signing the 1875 Treaty of the Meter, and kept current by the definitions of the International System of Units as published in the SI Brochure, by the BIPM (in which we are represented by NIST, an agency of the Dept. of Commerce). We’re really metric, we just hide it from the general public.

      Customary names (units) are nothing but code words for rather random looking metric amounts.

      Then there’s the whole “95% of the world’s population use metric daily and understand neither Customary nor Imperial, while the remaining Americans and British confuse each other with those two systems.”

  13. This is one of the most ridiculously ignorant posts I’ve read in a long time. The US customary – yes, that’s what it’s called – is such an arbitrary hodgepodge of units and divisions that you can’t even think of a name for it. You don’t know why, but you just love it, and, oh boy, you hate that metric system. Tell me one thing: if US customary is so great, why does it have to be defined in terms of the metric system? There is no such thing as a standard pound, yard, or gallon. They all are just some crazy fractions of a kilogram, meter, or liter, all of which do have internationally agreed-upon standard definitions. And yes, they are based in nature, but it’s the kind of nature you wouldn’t understand – things like atoms, light travelling in a vacuum, etc. So enjoy using your body as a measuring standard and keep using your fingers to count. The rest of us have moved on and ditched our calculators for supercomputers. Let us know when you want to catch up.

  14. “How tall is that horse? Lets count it in lengths of my hand An acre: the amount of land a man could plow in a day. How long is that? Lets walk it off it feet. Teaspoons and tablespoons, I have them in my house. No need for specialized equipment…just grab one and start spooning”
    While the mile measurements are valid (we still walk!), measuring horses is something that rarely occurs. Ploughing a field is mechanised. A household teaspoon or tablespoon rarely (if ever) actually matches the formalised volumetric measurements of a tsp and tbsp. And I’ve yet to meet someone with a 1′ foot.

  15. Quote: “The metric system is a made-up, arbitrary system based on the whim of some random person”

    You couldn’t be more wrong. Up to the introduction of the metric system in France each country district or city had its own set of measurements, which made trade with the neighbouring city or county awkward and open to fraud. Business and government wanted a uniform system for the whole country to replace an estimated three-quarters of a million units of measurement.

    To define the metric system the French measured the the distance from the North Pole to the Equator and divided that into ten million parts: the metre. (Imagine that: 18th-century scientists measured the world!)

    A cube one-tenth of a metre on each side is a litre. Fill it with water and it weighs a kilogram. (A cubic metre of water, therefore, will weigh a ton.) This, and the second which was already defined, comprised the original metric system and was sufficient for measuring everything people used at that time. As science expanded, new units were defined in terms of other metric units to measure values in new fields like electricity and chemistry. (Even the non-metric US uses metric units to measure electricity.)

    Ask yourself: Do we really need to measure the height of a building in feet, the height of a horse in hands, the depth of a sea in fathoms, the length of an athletic track in yards, a racetrack in furlongs and a road in miles, each with awkward conversion factors to other units? Shouldn’t one measure do them all?

  16. Well, there is a very simple test to check which measurement system people prefer. There are about 7 odd billion people on this globe, of those only 400 million give, or take, uses an antiquated mode of measuring. Now you have the choice of maintaining that those 7 odd billion got it all wrong. If you do that your mind is either driven by some kind of misplaced patriotism, habit, or absolute ignorance?

  17. I’m an Australian and I grew up with the imperial system and I am familiar with it, but I learnt metric when I was in high school while Australia converted to metric through the 1970s. And I definitely prefer metric. It is a much better system of weights and measures. It is integrated, streamlined, and of elegant simplicity. And once the mental effort is made to learn metric values, rather than just convert from imperial units to metric, metric is so much simpler to use. The Yanks and the Brits can do what they like and make their own arrangements, but as far as this Australian is concerned, converting to metric was one of the best decisions the Australian government has ever made; certainly one of the best decisions it has made in my lifetime.

    • WELL SAID, MATE!!! This Canadian (former American) agrees with you!! Oh, how I despise their (well, the BRITISH) system they protect so much, but when I talk to a Yank, I just peacefully end it with “ALL HAIL THE KING!” In their arrogance, they *have* to win every argument and war, and they just don’t “get it”. That’s why I left the USA.

  18. One foot: the length of a foot…whose foot?
    One mile: a thousand steps…whose steps?
    One acre: the area of land a man can plow in a day…which man?
    I could go on and on.

    Now, I understand how one could argue that the imperial system is down to earth and somewhat romantic; but it is ambiguous and uses TONS of definitions. That makes communication tedious.

    On the other hand, the metric system may be artificial and cold but it really uses one definition, the meter. Any other unit can be derived from that. Also scaling anything up or down is extremely simple.

    So sure it may be easier for me to start measuring volumes with the cup that’s right next to me but what if I need to share a measure with someone? Do I send the measure along with that exact cup?That’s not very practical, is it?

    Imperial units are great…if you don’t care about anybody else except yourself and give up meaningful communication.

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