An Imperial vs. Metric Rant

I don’t understand imperial measurements: and typically the Americans add extra levels of screwiness! First, as a nation, there’s the simple fact that they insist on using imperial measures at all. Then they make everything worse by having different measures! When will those silly Yanks get with the programme and drop daft imperial units?! Even those few people who hang on to antiquated measurement systems that strain the brain must accept that this outdated system has several significant drawbacks (and I’m sure there are more negatives yet very few positives):

  • Confusion between scientists caused the Mars Climate Orbiter to crash due to using imperial units while the specification called for metric. :zip:
  • The maths for working stuff out has to be known. For example, 16 ounces in a pound, 14 pounds in a stone, and 12 inches in a foot is quite random. If you don’t already know this you can’t work it out. Whereas with metric everything can be worked out – everything is in 10s. Easy. 1000 grams is 1 kilogram – even “kilo” means 1000, so it’s 1000 “grams”. 100°C is the boiling point of water and 0°C the freezing point. While 32°F is what? Could metric be easier? Of course I do know imperial units do have a basis, that is explained on the page linked below, my point is that you need to already know the details. There is no way to work out that a pound has 16 ounces in it. You have to know it. Whereas with metric you can infer stuff from the simple logic. :geek:
  • To compound the problems, the Yanks insist on having their own version of imperial measures. For example, 1 imperial pint is 1.2009 US pints! So we have a double whammy of confusion in many cases – metric vs. imperial and imperial vs. US imperial. :angry:
  • etc.

Consider these: 12 inches in a foot, 3 feet in a yard, 22 yards in a chain, rods, fathoms, furlongs, stone, links, perches, acres, etc. How many oddities can I think of? A lot! Check out this Wikipedia page, if you fancy getting confused!

However, I’ve long thought there is a light at the end of this long dark antique tunnel… And this hope? Perhaps one of the most iconic science fiction shows to have ever broadcast, Star Trek, uses metric units!

You’re position is 75,000 kilometres from the Klingon border.
“Captain, are you seeing this?”


55 thoughts on “An Imperial vs. Metric Rant”

  1. At least the Americans stick (almost) entirely to imperial (apart from that week in the 1970s when they went metric). They’re consistent, unlike the UK where we measure distances on the road in imperial units, but everything else (well, apart from heights and weights of people) in metric. Whose stupid idea was it to sell fuel in litres, but measure fuel efficiency in miles per gallon? :clap:

    NASA also exclusively uses metric units. The problem with Mars Climate Orbiter was partly due to the software being written by a contractor that used imperial units.

    1. Yeah, NASA’s use of metric seems to bode well for the formation of the Federation :alien: (but it does blow a big hole in America’s consistent use of imperial units).

      Hmm, and yes the UK’s pathetic mix of metric and imperial measures is another rant-worthy topic…

  2. HELLO Peter,
    I see from the newsletter that you have been getting out………..having said that i think you should get out more often. You mention “rant worthy topic” just chill will ya and get laid back like uncle Dave, the only figures in weights and measures is 20 fags to a packet and 8 pints in a hangover SIMPLE no stress.

    Kind regards Dave.
    PS come down and see me when you can.
    PPS bring the lovely missus xx

    1. Well, it also depends on corporations, some packages are 25 fags, while some are 20, and they have the regular size, and the kingsize size.
      I dont know about hangovers, since i do not imbibe, but I think imperial mesuremants are all well and propper. I think it would be interesting if star trek were to mix it up a bit with how many leagues it is between quonos and ferenginar, and such. And throw a fortnight or two in for how long it would take.

  3. Here’s why we Americans still use the Imperial system for day-to-day life.
    1. It’s familiar to us and it’s ingrained in us. Growing up using a foot, yard, inch, gallon, etc.. we’re comfortable with these figures and they make sense to us.
    2. We’re stubborn. We don’t want to change and you can’t make us! lol
    3. The Imperial system is good for daily use. Now, I’d rather not send a rocket to the moon using Imperial measures, but I can easily divide things into halves, thirds, fourths, sixths, and twelfths. When it comes to measuring volumes, I can quickly break a gallon down into quarts and cups. This goes for weight as well. It takes some memorization, yes, but it works nicely.
    4. It’s nice that some of the measures are loosely based on body parts. I can measure a yard without a yardstick and I can measure a foot by placing my foot on the ground. Granted, these will be different for everyone, but they are nice reference points.
    5. The Imperial system is not very good for large quantities, I admit. Once you break beyond the distance of a few yards, the volume of several gallons, or the weights of several pounds things get fiddly. I know that a ton is 2,000 pounds and it is very heavy, and I know that an acre is a large plot of land, but their exact size, I’m unsure.
    6. You may say, “why not just use the metric system and re-calibrate your understandings of distance, weight, and volume? Why not have a system that will work with very large and very small numbers equally?” Because I don’t need to. I use neither very large nor very small numbers day to day. It would only be a nuisance to do so.
    7. As far as temperatures in Fahrenheit are concerned, 0°F is the freezing point of the most abundant substance on Earth — Saltwater! and all the other points on the scale are really, as I understand them, arbitrary. But, 100°F is, as it sounds, hot for a human. After the scale was decided, it was found that 212° was the boiling point of water. Why do we still use it? Refer to my previous points on being comfortable and stubborn.
    8. We do use the metric system when it is important to do so: in scientific matters.
    I’m sure that I could find information to discuss the Imperial system further, but these seem to be some of the stronger arguments for its use.
    I hope this provides some American insight!

    1. Hi Rob!

      Thanks for the detailed response and finding the time to present the American point-of-view, it is quite interesting to understand (and learn) some of your points. Although I’m sure that 0°F is not the freezing point of salt water ( However, even if there is a “typical salinity” one would have to define the exact nature and concentration of all minerals dissolved in the water. Whereas 0°C and 100°C are simply the freezing and boiling points, respectively, of pure water. Very simple and clear. Which is at the heart of the science behind metric measures, they are precise and easily replicable. Whereas, as you say with all imperial measures they are simply arbitrary.

      Anyway, I am very grateful for your help and honesty regarding US stubbornness. :good:

      1. U.S. view point. The biggest problem Metric solves is conversation from one unit to another but that isn’t much of an everyday household problem.

        If the recipe calls for 3 teaspoons of something, I won’t convert that into 1 tablespoon. I could use 3 teaspoons with little consequence. In a lab you are forced to use the most accurate means possible, dumping three 10ML measures of something is not as accurate as one 30ML measure. So if after working out some formula I find I need, .002L of something I am forced to convert it into ml since graduated cylinders measure in ml (mostly). For large quantities of water over a liter the preferred method is to use a scale and so having 1L=1kg of water extremely useful.

        The common measures on a set of teaspoons are: 1/4, 1/2, 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon and some even have a 1/2 tablespoon measure. American cooks typically use 2 teaspoons for 1/2 tablespoon if needed or just eye ball it. These allow for easy halving or doubling if needed. And anything that I might choose to measure in a set of measuring spoons for a recipe is something I almost never would need to put in a measuring cup (i.e. the next unit up) even if I doubled or tripled the recipe.

        While I might buy my flour and butter by the pound, I don’t weight that out when I cook. Again we use dry measure cups so again little need to convert say pounds to ounches if I need to half it. Dry measure cups come in 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 and 1 cup. Butter comes in a 1 pound pack of 4 individually wrapped sticks with measuring on the wrapper in 1 tablespoon increments. Easy to double or half in both cases. I don’t need to know how many dry cups of something in in a pound to be able to cook just have enough on hand so again no conversion needed. Most recipes call for sticks of butter or tablespoons, the few that might call for pounds of butter would say 1 pound of butter(4 sticks) or 1/2 pound of butter (2 sticks).

        U.S. measure are actually based on Metric ones (an inch is defined as 2.54cm) and even the Fahrenheit scale is based on water (he choose a special kind of briny solution for zero, 32 for ice water (ice water is remains at this temp until all the ice has melted) and 96 which was about body temp—later modified to 212 where water boils). In science terms F is more precise than C due to it having smaller degrees. C maybe the standard and it is a good one for science but one of the things I find annoying is that a small change in degrees C equals a large change in temperature. If it is in the 60iesF or maybe low 70ies, I know I need a jacket or sweeter or should carry one but ah 20C (68F) vs. 25C (75F?). You have only moved 5 degrees on the scale and most people would find 20C a tad nippy.

        With imperial you tend to choose the appropriate measure for the task and stick with it rather than convert which is metric’s greatest strength. If something needs to be measured in inches you use a ruler. If something needs to be measured in feet and tape measured and for yards a Yard stick. Thus you don’t bump into the need to convert from inches to feet or feet to yards that often and you never would need to convert inches into yards in the real world but in an lab you often do need to convert mg to g or kg.

        Also Customary US measures are very tied to real world items. 1 pound of butter, milk comes in standard pints, quarts, half gallons and Gallons containers making easy to visualize what the heck a pound of something or a gallon of something is and Soda and sometimes water are about the only common US items in a handy metric unit and other than for reference almost no uses fluid ounces and rarely use ounces (weight). Sure the package might say fl but who the heck goes somewhere and request 60fl of something?

        I love meteric when working with anything other than household stuff and that is why there is so much resistance.

  4. By the way, the imperial system also likes halves. Half a gallon is 2 quarts, half a quart is a pint, half a pint is a cup. There are 8 ounces per cup so we also have 1/2 a cup, 1/4 cup, and an ounce (we also have 1/3 cup.) 2 tablespoon makes an ounce. So we have a tablespoon, 3 teaspoons to a tablespoon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1/4 teaspoon, 1/8 teaspoon. I regularly use all of these measures. Though, I don’t know if this actually defends my points or makes me look insane.

    1. 🙂

      Of course we already know that all our fellow bloggers from across the pond are insane 😉 but it’s great to hear from you.

      For cooking I have cups to cope with imperial recipes. I always knew an imperial pint was smaller than a metric pint but didn’t know that 2 cups would make a pint. That makes life a lot easier and avoids me having to get the calculator out, or guessing. 🙂

  5. I’ve been thinking about the metric system now, (thanks for that,) and I ran into some interesting curiosities. I’d be grateful if you could shed some light on why these things are as they are (if you know.)
    1. 1cm³ = 1mL. Therefore, 10m³ = 1L. Why does 1m³ not equal 1L? Wouldn’t that make more sense in converting? Then 1cm³ would equal 1cL. Why does 1L of water = 1kg instead of 1g? If it did, then 1mL of water = 1mg = 1mm³. Doesn’t that work nicely?
    2. Along the same lines, the standard measurement of mass is not the gram, it’s the kilogram. Why isn’t it the gram?
    3. I appreciate the attempt to make a unified system of measurement, but why not fix it to some of the nice, round points in nature as they tried to with the kilometer and Celsius scale? Everything else, you’ll have to agree, is either arbitrary or fixed to the kilometer. They’ve since been fixed to some natural constants, but they are as screwy as some of the Imperial conversions. For instance, 1 second = “the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom.” Lovely. Let’s just be glad that we can, with our technology, measure these intervals.

    1. 1l (litre) contains 1000 ml.

      1ml = 1 “cubic centimetre”
      1l = 1000 “cubic centimetre”

      Not 10m^3

      The difference is that you are thinking of taking the distance and curbing it. This is not the case. There are 1000 little cubes of size 1cm each.

      That will then fix all your other assumptions.

      It’s just the same as when Americans use cubic inches. 1000 cubic inches is a cube 10 inches on each side. Not 1000 inches on each side. 1l of water does measure 1kg so yes, it works very nicely which is why we use it.

      Most measuremts are rooted in some old real world standard. It’s only now that we give them random things like the number of ossicilations of whatever because it makes the measurement more precise and unchanging.

  6. Hi Rob,

    I think your answer is contained within your third question. Natural constants are used and because of that everything gets ‘screwy’ in the detail but unlike the Imperial system it all gets smoothed over for ease of use by making everything divisible by ten. The arbitrary fixed points have been chosen such that mathematical problems can be carried through without fudge factors in the equations because the system is pre-fudged. It’s all about simplicity of use rather than purity of principle; pragmatism not idealism.

    It is a very good way of doing things and I do notice when I can’t use it. Yesterday I was adding up some times and the whole business of 60 seconds to the minute was really annoying. We need to start a campaign for the metric minute: One hundred seconds to the minute I say (and don’t get me started on hours 😀 ).

  7. As an american myself, I must say, that i too am stubborn, and would rather go down to the pub for a pint of than a litre. And so i will now cover my ears with my hands, and say “la la la la la, i am not listening, la la la” metric system,,,, Bah!!!

  8. LOL – I enjoyed reading your “rant.” I have to disagree with the science behind it, however. What most people don’t know is that the imperial system is actually based on the ancient Sumerian sexagismal system that itself is based on the average of luni-solar time. The metric system dates back only to the French Revolution, at which time they also attempted to change the calendar and the clock, instituting 10 “decades” in every 30 day month and 10 hours in lieu of every 24 hours on the clock. Really weird. With the imperial system, you have linear measurement, weight measurement, time measurement (which reconciles the lunar year to the longer solar year) as well as . . . geometry! The metric system STILL uses the sexagismal base of 360 degrees in a circle – which is the average of luni-solar time. So, in that instance, metric users are reverting to the same system on which the imperial system is based. All in all, I find the imperial system to be a very elegant, all encompassing method of measurement. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize it and assume the metric system is better.

    1. It’s not the science that’s really behind my frustration, it’s the lack of logic. What you say may (or may not) be correct, but what remains is the weirdness and lack first principles that can be used to work stuff out if you don’t already know it. For example, how do you explain 16 ounces in a pound and 14 pounds in a stone? If one didn’t already know these details, how would you go about working them out logically? You can’t.

      I suspect your preference is simply a result of familiarity as opposed to a logical process. :geek:

      1. Oh, you’re right. Definitely a result of familiarity. 😉 However, I am still fascinated by how the imperial system encompasses ALL methods of measurement: linear, mass, time and angles/geometry. If you’re interested, this article has some pics of the weird calendars and clocks the French used for awhile at the same time they invented the metric system: French_Calendar_Reform.pdf

        Pages three and four here have some more explanations about the sexagismal base of the imperial system: Time_by_Design.pdf

        I will agree with you, however, that the imperial system isn’t as neatly divisive as is the metric. It took me years to remember how many feet are in a mile, even though I intuitively know how “long” a mile takes to drive! 🙂

      2. its really annoying. i don’t want to measure things in ££££££££££££’s
        come on!!

        wtf is a cup there are many different sizes
        teaspoon, tablespoon there spoons not measurements although a teaspoon is 5ml.
        wtf is a pound. oh yeah! its £££££ money
        wtf is a inch. no one knows at least a cm is as big as Ur fingernail
        an ounce, no f***ing idea. fluid or powder noooooooo whyyyyyyyy at least ml makes sense.
        wtf is a pint. i do not know at least ill know what i would be drinking if it would be in ml’s.
        nobody in this whole world knows what a stone or yard is omg kilograms and meters to the rescue!
        degrees celcius actually tells you when its cold. 96 degrees farenhight sounds like youll burn ya face off.
        not to mention every imperial measurement is annoying as fuk
        go metric!!!
        plus btw no kids are being taught imperial anymore hence my lack of knowlege of ANY IMPERIAL MEASUREMENT LOLOL

  9. I would also add, as some other fellow “silly Yanks” have already observed, stubbornness does enter into it. I remember when I was 10 and my teacher told us that we had to learn the metric system because the US was going to be converting to the metric system just like Canada had, I wanted to scream NOOOO! I intuitively understand the imperial system and I don’t the metric system, so, yeah. Stubbornness definitely enters into it! LOL 😆 Now that I’m living in a country that uses the metric system, cooking is rather a challenge! 🙄

    1. Cooking: there’s another random measure, the “cup”. Rob states above that a cup is half a pint. Well that’s true – except – US, Imperial, and metric systems all use the “cup” as a unit, but they are of course different volumes. (What’s worse though is those “silly Yanks” have two sizes of cup!) However, I accept there is some logic here in that; if for example a cake recipe uses all cup measures, regardless of the cup (or mug) size used, the ingredients will all be in proportion to each other. Anyhow, to help with recipes from the US where not all the ingredients are listed in cup measures allowing for proportionality we do have a standard US cup measure in our kitchen (surprisingly it’s a cup 🙄 ).

      ❓ I know this isn’t exactly a point relating to the main debate, but, it does raise an interesting thought…
      Seeing as using a consistent volume based measure in a recipe allows for a proportional result, would all recipes benefit from using that system and providing a simple factor for how many the recipe feeds? For example, 1 cup equals 2 portions, 2 sups feeds 4 people, etc.

        1. 😆 You gotta love the intuitiveness of that! But you’re talking about the US “legal” cup, whereas the US “customary” cup is 15⅔ tablespoons. Next, the definition of the volume of a tablespoon… Ah, that’ll be another intuitive answer, 2 fl oz, of course.

          1. If you mean the FDA determination that a fluid ounce is equivalent to 30mL, that only applies to nutritional labeling or medications. I’m not sure what you mean by legal vs customary measures though.

          2. Customary cups are the ones that are found in people’s drawers used for measuring along with the tablespoons. Legal cups are the ones you’d see on the nutritional info panel on the packaging of food. If someone in the US says “a cup of flour” they mean the customary unit, unless they’re working for the FDA. Lol. The legal unit was devised so it would be more easily compared with the metric system and calories, but again, only for nutritional labeling.

    1. The two cups thing is confusing but whichever system is used it is still possible to make mistakes. I’m sure BMW used metric when designing their run flat tyre but some people still found fault with them… :zip:

  10. Nah it isn’t confusing. In the US dry stuff goes in the dry cup(flour, sugar, fruit). Liquid stuff goes in the liquid cup(which usually has markings in ml,fl oz and cups–Milk,Water). The only oddball thing is that dry cup and a liquid cup are not quite the same “volume”(very close) where as in metric you would ever buy a half a liter of strawberries in imperial you might buy a pint of them(if they were not sold by wieght). A dry cup is also designed differetly:

    It saves from having to weight things out in the kitchen. Won’t be as consistant as weighting out flour but faster.

  11. The thing about english units is that they evolved for a use esp. commercial use which is why they don’t always scale nicely and why there are so many of them. They were tied to a use

    A dry volume means enough of a dry product to fill this standard volume. A dry cup is used for cooking so that you don’t need to weight out items like flour and sugar. It is good enough on the scale of need say a cake but not if you needed to make two hundred cakes all at once then you would resort to using a scale or if you needed more consistency in the product you would use a scale. A dry pint allows certain bulk items like berries to be sold in prepackaged amounts. Enough berries or grain to fill this standard amount. A dry pint of berries will vary in mass or in number but the purchaser and the seller doesn’t care about that and for time when they might then they would be loose and sold by weight (pound). This was really handy before machines could individually label each package by weight and is still used today for certain items.

    The fact that a dry cup/pint does not equal a liquid cup/pint is trivia for most people but if you are using a system that is geared for science then it becomes a pain because you need to convert a unit of dry volume into a unit of mass and that will vary from item to item. If you are cooking you use cups, tablespoons and Teaspoons. If you are buying something it comes in pints, quarts, gallons if by volume by pound if by weight. Larger volumes like the hogshead (about the size of a cask) and barrel are again trivia outside of people in the respective industries (i.e. How often do you buy a barrel of something or need to know how many barrel/casks will fit in this space? If you are an vendor then this unit can become handy. ).

    Each unit gives an idea about the scale of something often in every day terms. Small items in inches, Rooms or distances within them are usually measured in feet. Yards are used for things like Fabric (probably was a handy size or enough carpet to fill a room) and distances outdoors and sports. Miles are used for longer distances say to the next town. You don’t measure a street in yards.

  12. Indian point of view!

    We use metric system since last 60 years. It’s so easy & we’re so used to it.

    We get milk in 1 liter, 1/2 liter milk-bags. Our bottles are 50ml, 100ml, 150ml, 250ml, 500ml, 1l, 2, 5l…
    1teaspoon=5ml, 1tablespoon=15ml. One can find nice little measuring cup with ‘ml’s on a cough syrup bottle. (Anyways we don’t use spoons that much, we eat by our hands).

    We buy gold in units of ‘tola’ (pegged to 10 grams).
    And fruits, people’s bodyweight in kilos (kilograms).
    As a consumer I get exact weight & volume of a product I’m buying with quantities accurate to 2 decimal places.

    I can use precision of millimeter for my origami as well as for engineering drawings rather than inches. As 1km = 0.62 miles, numbers on our speedometers are comfortably placed. So a novice also can be instructed to drive between 40-50 kmph.

    Only times we need (unofficially) imperial system is areas. Flats are measured in sq.feet & land in Ares, acres & hectors.
    And yeah, people’s height in feet & inches.

  13. “We get milk in 1 liter, 1/2 liter milk-bags. Our bottles are 50ml, 100ml, 150ml, 250ml, 500ml, 1l, 2, 5l”

    Wow how different and boy would that tick off Americans. 1 gallon=3.78L, you would have to round up or down which might anger consumers and our milk comes in plastic jugs for the 1 gallon, half gallon. Paper or Plastic for the Quart and Pint. There is even a company that went back to glass bottles for the half gallon. Those are the ones you would find in a grocery store.

    The dairy case of that grocery store is built to accommodate this size milk. When you pick one up from the front the next one slides down. In the US milk in the stores is not ultra-pasteurized and needs to be refrigerated before being bought (I heard that in India milk is ultrapasturized and shelf stable-i.e. no refrideration needed before opening). Our milk cases in which the milk is shipped can fit four 1 gallon Jugs or 1 5 gal milk bag. Changing the size of the milk would hit the manufacturer and the store with costs. The only shelf stable milk in the US is the cream in tiny cups that restaurants have out for coffee drinkers and the cans of condensed milk or in the store (which are for cooking not drinking). Many other cheap drinks use the gallon milk and rarely half gallon jug also (drinks produced by a dairy on the side usually).

    I used to work in a dairy and there is a 5 gallon bag used for restaurant and fits in a machine and a tiny paper size sold for schools with small children (smaller than a pint like for a 4 year old or younger) and a vending machine sized paper pint that is a different shape. The teaspoon and tablespoon measures are equal to ours.

    Currently all US food products are labeled both in English and in Metric. Pop and sometimes water is in Metric sizes and were popular when they came out in the 70ies. I suspect because those items don’t spoil and are not used to cook with (i.e. 1 pint equals 2 cups and US cup equals 239ml not the metric 250ml cup—it will throw off recipes and how much I need to buy). The food industry is not metric but most other labs are.

    I heard they tried making milk in metric in the 70ies and it flopped but not sure on that. As you can see changing those sizes going to be expensive for many groups. I agree about Metric needing someting like a foot for some odd reason the decameter just isn’t used. In the US cm is often used for something very small (but has not replaced fractions of an inch) but for something longer than about 3 inches(about 7 cm) I prefer inches.

    One thing I like about emperial rulers are the different sized markers for fractions of an inch are easier to see where as the metric ruler in the US only has 1 larger .5cm mark with all other marks being equal between each cm. vs. the differet sized markers for 1/16’s, 1/8’s,1/4’s and the large 1/2 mark. If I don’t need something quite precise to the milimeter level thoose marks easier on the eyes and easier to eye ball.

  14. Juzz forgot the half pint of milk(2 kinds the one usually given in schools and ofcourse the mis-size vending one I mentioned earlier). Have found memories of the things that would go wrong with the paper filling version of these machines.

  15. once you understand it metric is so much simpler, like what is 5/8 + 1/5? im sure that would take an imperial user longer to workout than it would take a metric user to work out 0.625 + 0.2. simple 0.825… also in engineering metric works much better because it gets complicated enough working things out in thousanths of a millimetre let alone mixing inches with decimals and shit like that 😐 but it does annoy me trying to work out fuel costs and stuff from MPG to litres and back again.. americans dont have to bother with this because you pay like half as much for fuel as us! stop drinking all the petrol in your V8s, theres none left for the rest of the world!!

  16. The biggest reason the U.S. does not switch is the cost of replacing almost everything in our lives. We would have to replace almost ALL the signs in the U.S., which would take years to do. Some places would have to replace all their rulers, thermometers, etc. How about the rest of the world pays for the change, all the quadrillions of dollars it would take to replace all the store refrigerators, cardboard boxes, pricetags. Not to mention all the lines on ALL the roads in the U.S. would have to be repainted to conform to a regular metric measurement and not be some inane decimal. Do you want to pay for that? I don’t think so.

    1. Another thing. Eve never heard of a chain, or a stone. I’ve heard of a furlong, but do not know what that means. That is the one thing that bothers me about rants on this topic, is that you use measurements what we so not use. I was not aware that there was a difference between a dry cup and a wet cup, I’ve never used a chain or stone as a measurement, and probably never will. Do you guys use the deciliter, decigram, decimeter, decaliter, decagram, decameter, etc. And if we did switch to metric, we would not use Celsius, we would use Fareignheight, it has more degrees to work with. Celcius is good for scientific stuff, but everyday is better with degrees F.

    2. Yes, the economic argument against switching to metric, and the associated costs of new signage etc., is a good point. However, there are very likely sensible incremental steps that could be implemented to manage and spread that cost. There would even be some instances of cost savings in moving to metric simply by not having to convert measurements, making fewer errors, and being able to simplify some manufactured items (stuff like European speed dials in cars that have to show imperial and metric units). Of course it is these intended pragmatic steps that lead to situations like we have in the UK where metric has been adopted, yet road signage is still in miles!

      All that said, I fail to see why you think Fahrenheit is superior to Celsius? If you try to set aside your familiarity with the Fahrenheit system and consider simply the logical argument of why Celsius is fundamentally a more simple system to use and remember I’m sure you would be able agree. However, I see from the tone of your writing that logical and unbiased thought may not be possible; you’ve clearly already made your mind up and no logical arguments will even be considered… If I’m wrong about that, please accept my apologies.

  17. Canada here, and we are “officially” metric; however, it will take another generation or two to really let it sink in. I use metric for distance/speed, temperature, weight and volume; but for some common measurements such as my height & weight, I switch to Imperial. I am 5’11” and 175lbs in my mind, but my Dr would record it as 180cm/75Kg. It’s just familiar to me in that context.

    I’d agree with the initial post that Metric is “better” in that it just makes sense. Removing familiarity from the equation, there is no argument.

    What drives me batty, is the mixed use of Metric and Imperial within the same context. Take this paragraph from a running blog (a UK one no less):

    Run these at 30 to 40 seconds quicker than your current 5k pace. For example if you’re a 3:59 marathon runner, with a 5k time of 24:49, your pace for 5k is 7:59, so run your 400m at 7:29 to 7:19 pace, which is 1:50 to 1:52 for 400m reps.

    It switches from Metric to Imperial and back so many times, it’s almost comical. Additionally, it measures a 5K race in time per mile. ALL international running is in Metric, with the exception of the marathon (due to the legend of Pheidippides).

    In the end, there is NO argument that we’d all benefit from using ONE system of measurement. I just don’t see Metric ever happening in the US, and they’re such a massive influence around the globe.

  18. First, strictly speaking, we do not use the imperial system of measurement. We use US standard measures, which are almost identical and have the same names. However, at the time it was adopted as a the US standard, there was no Imperial standard. There is no “US Imperial”.

    Now, many people have pointed out that its mostly familiarity that keeps Americans using what you have called “imperial” measures as opposed to the (supposedly) more logical metric system. This, in a sense is true. But it would be just a true for most metric users, who are not scientists. They use it because it is familiar and has been taught to them all their lives – the “logic” of the system has nothing to do with it. As humans, its always easier for us to deal with the familiar than the foreign, in all aspects of our lives, and not just measurement.
    This has also been referred to as “stubbornness” by Americans. I suppose that could be accurate, but stubbornness is not necessarily bad if its for a good reason. To me, the biggest difference between the US and metric systems is something that was lightly touched on by by Rob, so I’ll try to elaborate in my own words. The US system is on a much more HUMAN scale. The basic unit of measure here is a foot, which I find very convenient – not too short, but not too long. In metric, its the meter which is a little longer than our measurement of a yard. But here’s the thing – other than in some very specific circumstances (American football, or buying fabric) the yard is almost never used. No one who is 6 feet tall would ever say they are 2 yards. I often see metric users refer to themselves as X number of centimeters tall. So even metric users don’t find the base unit to be the best for personal use all the time. As Rob said, most of do not work with either very large or very small scales regularly. Halves, quarters, and eighths are also intuitively easier to visualize and grasp than a number like .125. No one in their daily life would say “I ate .50 of the pizza by myself.” Similarly someone at a pub in the UK, who wanted an (imperial) pint of beer does not ask for .568261 litres. Or even for half a litre. They want a pint.

    Now to your point about things needing to be known. This is really a non-point. Do you need to know that there are 12 inches in a foot? Absolutely, you couldn’t tell someone how many inches there are 37 feet without it. But, if I were say to someone “How many centimeters are in a hectometer?” They absolutely CANNOT work this out without KNOWING how many centimeters are in a hectometer. This is not self evident. The fact that it is done with decimals and in orders of 10s is irrelevant. You still have to know the entire scale and the name for each unit.
    So to be to clear, in both systems everything must be known and worked out equally. Its not any harder to learn 12 inches in a foot or 16 ounces in a pound than 100 centimeters to a meter. What may be harder is the actual conversion – it probably takes me longer to figure out how many inches are in 23 and a half feet than it would for you to figure out the centimeters in 7 and half meters.

    1. Sorry Ryan, you’ve missed the point…

      When I say you must “know” how imperial units work, what I’m saying is that there is no fundamental rule to help guide you. Everything imperial is arbitrary: 12 inches in a foot; 16 ounces in a pound; etc. Whereas, metric is entirely based on fundamentals. So to suggest that I cannot know what a hectometre is, is to suggest I can’t read. If one understands the meaning of a word, any word, I can understand what the author has intended. For example, if I write an instruction, “place an item on top of another”. You need to understand what the individual words, say “top”, mean before you understand the instruction. Therefore, if I can read and understand the meaning of “hecto” to be 100 – without knowing any arbitrary unit such as 14 pounds in a stone – I can quickly say that 100 meters is 10,000cm (i.e. 100 x 100cm). No extra and crucially arbitrary knowledge required. I just need to be able to read. Do you see? Another example based on fundamentals, a hectolitre, i.e. 100 litres. No extra knowledge required.

  19. Just have to say it …
    Don’t call me a Yank, bloody Brit.

    Sorry dear, I could not help myself. Anyways, as many others have said, why would we want to relearn everything? The young generation would tell Grandpa they ran 400 meters, and poor Grandpa would be lost. Now if the child said a quarter of a mile or whatever 400 meters is, he would know. And when Grandma tells them to get a pound of butter, they will need some calculators. The rift between people is such a waste.

    Americans like myself are individualistic, and proud (I might be sounding crazy)to use a different measurement from the British from who we won our Independence. To give in to their style would be like giving up. Might as well start putting a “u” between the “o” and the “r”. Now that would really make some people mad.

    We are doing just fine with our “out of wack, out dated” system. Why change when everyone manages their 12 inches, 3 feet, and 1240(if correct, to lazy to check) yards?

    Now my dear, go back to your tea.

  20. Being an American and having done land surveying in my past for about 4 years I came to love the metric system, it is so much more friendlier to calculate. It is a real PITA when we would have to survey something to architect blueprints as they draw everything in inches. I do not understand why 3 countries use the imperial system while the rest of the world uses the metric system. As far as, “we know the imperial system and don’t want to change”, that is just sheer laziness. The metric system is naturally a given, we have 10 fingers and 10 toes, the metric system is a 10 base system, easier to manage. I really wish the US would have stayed with the metric system after that short stint in the 70’s, we would all be used to it by now and any conversions that we would need to make would already be done or at least be known how to convert them over. The metric system would put the world on an even playing field when it comes to measurements.

  21. Its the UK folks who still cling to the base 14 stone. We don’t use that at all. Personally, I find base 12 useful for some builds. Do you really want to space measurements in repeating decimals in all cases?

    Once again, use the right tool for the job. Politics have no place in engineering.

  22. I’m British and I love the good old Imperial system, the metric system is cold like the people who use it lol 😉

    And we British still use them , even kids I know use Imperial measures over metric, and good for them!!.

    If you want metric go live in EUrope.

  23. Hello Pete,
    I agree with all the simplicity you mentioned about in the metric system. I also feel that United States should adopt the Metric system and abandon the Imperial system used so readily now as to avoid further problems. Would you mind reading my blog at:
    I would like to have your perspective.

    Tim Lindquist
    The Green Room at Iowa State University

  24. When I have a tank of 1 meter by 2 meters by 6 meters it holds 1x2x6=12 cubic meters =12000 liters [with water] and weighs 12 ton.
    Now take 1 yard by 7 feet by 7 yards and calculate how many gallons it holds and how many pounds it weighs.
    This explains why in the US you need white collar workers to calculate how the blue collar workers must build things.

    Thank you.

  25. I totally agree. To add to your statement; school children in Scotland are not taught these equivalents, in fact I was born in 1971 and was never taught them. Metric all the way in schools so there is no surprise our own population are confused!

  26. Those who say the US is backwards because it uses the imperial system haven’t done their homework or have been stuck in a 40 year old time warp. The US uses BOTH systems and has for decades and most Americans are adept at using both. I easily move between both in my job as an electrician.

    1. Yes Robert, and that is an equal indictment of the UK system – using both systems is daft! And leads to serious errors or worse, check out the Mars Climate Orbiter example or the silly retention of imperial roads signs in the UK. Surely better to commit to the superior and logical metric system?

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