Waterloo 1815 – what if?

We speculate on the consequences if there had been a different outcome at the Battle of Waterloo.

On the morning of 18 June, 200 years ago, 140 000 men from six countries waited in fields beside the main road south of Brussels preparing for battle. By evening, around 32 000 would be dead or wounded, and Napoleon would be hurrying to Paris and ultimately to exile.

Wellington, commander of the victorious allied armies, was heard to say that the battle was “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life”. But just suppose the outcome had been different, if perhaps the Prussians had arrived on the battlefield too late and subsequently the Russians and Austrians had agreed peace terms with France. What might have been the consequences for the fledgling metric system?

We need first to look back to 1799, when a coup d’état in France led by Napoleon resulted in the replacement of the revolutionary Republic by a “benign dictatorship”. How many of the republican innovations would survive under this new, middle-class and meritocratic regime, in particular, the metric system, until then widely disliked by the general population?

It was twelve years before Napoleon turned his attention to this issue. In 1812, he introduced mesures usuelles for commerce and retail:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesures_usuelles

Mesures usuelles relied on metric standards, but relationships between units had a familiar feel: 12 pouces (inches) to one pied (foot); 16 onces (ounces) to one livre (pound), and so on.

The metric system continued in use for all government and legal business and was taught at all levels of education – a situation strangely similar to that in the UK today.

Forward to 1820. The Netherlands, then including Holland and Belgium, was the first country to adopt the metric system and to stick with it until the present day. Ken Alder* writes: “The people of the Low Countries may have resented French rule, but the restored (Dutch) monarchy saw the advantages of its centralised form of administration, especially for a fractious territory that thrived on commerce. King William I of Orange ordered the decimal metric system obligatory throughout the Low Countries by 1820. And when Belgium separated from Holland in 1830, it not only retained the metric system but reverted to the original nomenclature.”

The Dutch were the second largest force in the allied armies at Waterloo: 25 000 British and Irish, 17 000 Dutch, 11 000 from Hanover and 9 000 from Brunswick and Nassau. If the Allies had been defeated at Waterloo, then the Low Countries might have been occupied again by France, and mesures usuelles imposed. The metric system would not have received that vital boost in 1820 which ensured its survival in at least one country as the primary system of measurement used for all purposes. Perhaps mesures usuelles would have been widely adopted on the continent; Imperial and US Customary might have prevailed in much of the rest of the world, as seemed possible until some time after after World War 2.

As we know, this was not to be. Mesures usuelles were never adopted outside France, and in 1840 were abandoned there too. Clearly, measurement muddle was not as popular in France then as it is in the UK today. The measures themselves had lasted officially for only 28 years, although the words survive to this day.

And the rest, as they say, is history. The metric system is now the primary measurement system for 98% of the countries of the world and is used regularly by 95% of its population.

The paradox is that the UK, which made the largest contribution to the allied armies at Waterloo, has adopted, de facto, Napoleon’s compromise of “usual measures” for some purposes and metric for others, as described in our article “50 years on”.

How long will this muddle last? It has already exceeded the official lifespan of mesures usuelles. But the public opinion survey carried out in 2013 by YouGov on UKMA’s behalf suggests that the UK’s version of mesures usuelles could be with us for some time to come. Alas.

If he were still around, Napoleon would probably be flattered but not surprised. He was reported as saying during his exile on St Helena, “L’Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers.”

* “The measure of all things” by Ken Alder. First published in the UK by Little, Brown. 2002.

For details of the 2013 YouGov survey, see this article on Metric Views.

38 thoughts on “Waterloo 1815 – what if?”

  1. When my son was born the nurse told me his weight in pounds, I responded by saying “I would like his weight in kgs please! She looked shocked, & said he weighs 3.3 kg.” When someone asks me his weight I always use kgs – people might not like it, but as I say to them he was born in the 21st century not the 19th!!


  2. “The paradox is that the UK, which made the largest contribution to the allied armies at Waterloo, has adopted, de facto, Napoleon’s compromise of “usual measures” for some purposes and metric for others”

    I don’t think it is quite true to say the UK has ‘adopted’ a compromise of ‘usual measures’ (Imperial) for some purposes and metric for others. Rather, this is the situation in which the public have been ‘dumped’ by a series of governments who have not seen the need to have a single system of measurements that are taught in school and used by everyone for all everyday purposes (shopping, driving, health, etc.). Once the government embarked upon a process of coverting to metric it was sheer lunacy not to complete the process, but that is the situation we are in. One can hardly blame the general public for the current mish-mash of measurement units that are swirling around in official and semi-official use but this cannot ever have been the intended aim of government policy. The British public are in this mess through no fault of their own.


  3. @Jake
    Please remind us why you think that the current “mish-mash”, as you put it, which doesn’t adversely affect (indeed it might actually positively contribute to) this country’s ability to punch above its weight in the international market place, is apparently such a big deal to you.


  4. @ Charlie P
    How has the lack of a recognised system of measurement positively contributed to the United Kingdom’s ability to punch above its weight in the international market place?
    Since when has ignorance been a positive attribute? If you are talking about trade with the USA, the only non-metric country in the world of any importance, do you seriously believe that they would stop buying British goods and services if Britain modernised its system of measurement. I think you’ll find they buy far more goods from Germany because they see that country as being technically superior and one of the reasons for that supposition is the fact that Germans are intelligent enough to use a logical system of weights and measures.


  5. Charlie P:

    I think you’ll find nearly all exports from the UK are in metric-standard products (automotive, pharmaceuticals, aeronautical, to name just three product categories). I’m sure we could sell even more if the metric world thought that we were metric as well (even though in fact we are to a very large extent), including to the USA (which is actually far more metric than we think).

    We may ‘punch above our weight’ today, but that situation will unlikely last for much longer. Countries like China and India, as well as other smaller but forward-looking countries (such as Vietnam), are all becoming ever more technologically advanced, and capable of displacing the UK in supplying products to the world. We either get our act together (including completing metrication – and SHOWING the world that we are metric by getting rid of imperial road signs), or we will end up punching well below our weight.


  6. @Cliff
    You show contempt for me and for the British population in the way you have twisted my comments. You interpret world competitive knowledge of two systems – and with the ability to use either when necessary, when appropriate or when preferred – as “ignorance”. And no, I wasn’t thinking specifically about trade with the US, although having a national bi-unit-system capability cannot do any harm there either.

    What I am asking is what further measures (no pun intended) those here think are necessary in a country that has already adopted metric units for every business, commercial and government administrative purpose for which they are wanted or required. In a country that is already amongst the world leaders in science, technology and commerce. In a country where most of the population have already been educated in metric units and where metric units are almost exclusively used (perfectly competently) at work.

    The only other areas, as far as I can tell, are those which can have no positive impact on the country’s prospects or competitive strength. In areas which will only impact the country’s culture and proud customs, traditions and conventions. Those measures, if they ever came to pass, would not only impact private life and curtail freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but would adversely affect international trade for those businesses for which our heritage, and modern-day British quirks supply strong USPs.


  7. The reasons why a single, simple, logical and universal measurement system is better than the current muddle are set out in UKMA’s publication “A very British mess”, published in 2004 and available as a free download here: http://www.ukma.org.uk/publications.
    Refer to chapter 3, “The mess we’re in – and why it matters”.

    Although Napoleon remains a national hero in France, it did not take long for the French to realise that “mesures usuelles” was not one of his smartest ideas. The more surpising then, that the UK has drifted into a muddle akin to “measures usuelles” while being very reluctant to recognise his other achievements, both as a general and as a civil administrator.


  8. derekp:

    It is not entirely true to say that “mesures usuelles” never existed outside France. In 1834 a number of German states set up the “Zollverein” or Customs Union. In 1851, the Zollverein introduced the “zollpfund” or “customs pound” of 500 grams. In 1871 Zollverein was replaced by the [second] German Empire. The new empire adopted the metric system as its national system of measurement.

    (For the record, the first German Empire was the Holy Roman Empire which nominally lasted for a thousand years (800 – 1806) and the Third German Empire is more commonly known as the “Third Reich”.)


  9. Charlie P continues to miss the point that the mish-mash ensures we’re a “jack of all trades but master of none” when it comes to measures.

    From the additional time wasted teaching school children to deal with and convert between two disparate systems to the re-training of prospective engineers who have failed to grasp the basics of metric because their parents and peers insist on instilling a pint-mile-foot-stone world on them.

    It has been said many times before, the more you have to convert between different systems the more it costs and the more it becomes likely you’ll make a mistake. In engineering and medicine this is a often matter of safety, in the shops it’s a matter of consumer protection and cost, in education it is a waste of time which could be spent on better preparing our children for a global marketplace.


  10. @Alex
    I have missed no point, but have shown some “points” to be compete red herrings. UK industry and commerce are clearly masters of the metric system. On the other hand, in their private lives the British people obviously prefer imperial measures. Greengrocers and sweet shop owners are masters of both – most customers buy in imperial (2lb apples, 4oz dolly mixtures) – but they can happily handle requests in metric too. It couldn’t be more straight forward really.

    Whether there actually is any “waste” depends on whether the cost outweighs the benefit. You are keen to describe what, in your opinion, are the costs but have been shy about acknowledging the benefits. Without the latter being fully recognised we cannot claim that there is any “waste” at all. My contention is that the benefits, including to the British economy, may well outweigh the costs.

    Engineers do not need to be retrained, that’s a red herring, they have been trained to use metric for decades.

    And what conversions are you alluding to? You seem to be throwing more red herrings in here too. If I design and/or manufacture parts for jet fighters, satellites, luxury cars, or whatever, using metric units, why would I need to convert to anything else? Similarly if I know my waist size in inches, the distance to my destination in miles or the weight of potatoes I require for dinner in pounds, why would I need to convert any of those either?


  11. Be advised, Lee. The abbreviation of kilograms is kg, not kgs.


  12. re: jackthesmilingblack & Lee
    Just to say ‘kgs’ is an abbreviation, ‘kg’ is the correct SYMBOL that should always be used.

    And to reinforce the point, a few more examples:
    ‘gm’ is an abbreviation for gram , ‘g’ is the correct symbol.
    ‘kph’ is an abbreviation for kilometres per hour, ‘km/h’ is the correct symbol.
    ‘cc’ is an abbreviation for the cubic centimetre, for the correct symbol please refer to
    the UK Metric Association’s Style Guide:

    Click to access ukma-style-guide.pdf


  13. More on abbreviation, from elsewhere in these postings USA uses gr for grains which I have mistaken for grams. I have no idea what a grain is, nor do I need to know, but as both grams and grains are medical dosage measurements it may be worth making the effort to use the correct SYMBOL at all times.
    Our doctors surgery always wrongly uses Kgs and cms on their health assessment forms, the message that this is wrong just does not get through!


  14. @Mary,

    To doubly reinforce, section 5.1 of the SI Brochure says explicitly, “It is not permissible to use abbreviations for unit symbols or unit names . . .” Abbreviations in place of proper symbols are the tools of Imperial anti-metric forces or the Devil, one or the other.


  15. I’m sorry that I used kgs instead of kg. I was rushed whilst typing.

    Editor. I am not sure we should be getting too worked up about this. In the context of an abbreviation of a word in a sentence, should BIPM be invoked? OK, a quantity is the product of a number and a unit, and in such circumstances, clarity requires the correct symbol for the unit. But if the unit is not part of a quantity, are we restricted to either the word in full or the correct symbol?


  16. If it is an accident, we shouldn’t be getting worked up, period. We all typo and let our minds get ahead of our fingers.

    However, for the pro-Imperial forces who assert they can abbreviate however they want, I think the SI Brochure is clear. The prohibition on random, made up abbreviations is in section 5.1, titled “Unit Symbols” but is worded to apply to both names and symbols. There is no mention of quantities there; they are covered in section 5.3, as the product of a number, and a unit represented by name or symbol. As a technical reading, it seems to me that the prohibition of abbreviation applies to both names and symbols at all times, quite apart from whether they are used in a quantity.

    However, I urge others to read at least the first 3 subparts of section 5 for themselves. Other interpretations may be possible and it is always good to read the Si Brochure. 🙂


  17. I personally think maybe if metric was used correctly for example I’ve seen lorries and vans using kph instead of km/h, or maybe it’s to make imperial users feel comfortable?


  18. @Charlie P I’m almost starting to feel as though I’m starting to flog a dead horse here… the point is that if you use a different system at home to the one you use in work it’s not going to be as easy to switch. In my earlier years I worked at a company selling American and Dutch produced printing inks and spend much of my time producing shipping invoices for customers based on the (then completely legal) mis-match of weights shown on the products. Despite doing it all day we all struggled, especially on a Monday morning, to convert lb to kg.

    Also a few years ago I got into a similar conversation with my sister, a university lecturer in chemistry and biology (now a department head). I stopped her mid sentence and said “Ok then so if you understand imperial as well as metric, how many feet are there in a mile?” After a pause of about 5-10 seconds she responded “Uh, I don’t know. Probably 1000?”

    When I pointed out the fact that this COSTS us that was precisely the point. The benefit to our country is to remove the cost, delays and confusion caused by conversion. Every time you have to convert it costs our economy money. The benefit would be to remove this confusion and all related costs. Be honest, wouldn’t you be happier if things cost a little less because nobody had to make anything different just for us and our children were better educated because they weren’t sat in maths lessons struggling over the question of how many ounces are in a kg?


  19. Has this Charlie P ever stated what he does for a living if he does anything at all?

    I find it hard to believe that most people buy in imperial. How is this possible when all prepackaged goods are rounded metric only? How does one buy petrol in imperial?

    The deli scales are all in kilograms, so how does one buy 2 lb of apples unless that is what they ask for but instead get 1 kg? The average mass of an apple is about 100 g, so you would get 10 for a kilogram.

    Waitrose online shopping offers you a choice of units, but when toggling back and forth between pounds and kilograms it shows that a pound is treated as 500 g.


    A user of the site gloated over being able to purchase 4 lb of bananas but later admitted he had to call in the order and ask for 1.8 kg.

    So yes, you can ask for 2 lb, but the shop will weigh out 1 kg. Who knows what you will get if you ask for 4 ounces? 100 g, 120 g, or even 150 g? I suspect somewhere between 120 and 150 g as the shop will want you to get more than less. I’m sure most people would be too embarrassed to complain if they were oversold and the shop depends on that.


  20. @ Charlie P

    I understand the underlying fundamental of your argument. I don’t think anyone here would disagree that some people still ask for things in imperial units. It probably varies from one part of the UK to the other but in the south-east I hear even older people who would not have had their education in metric ask for so-many hundred grams of things. Or simply so many slices, as you often hear in mainland European countries. Or ‘a piece’, say of cheese. But what really flummoxes me is your assertion that people buy ‘dolly mixtures’ by asking for 4 ounces. I have not seen those sweets priced in ounces for about 15 years (the law changed in 2000); they are required to be priced per 100 g. These sweets are often bought by children. If the sweets are priced per 100 g and the scales are metric (they have to be by law), how on earth would a child even think of asking for 4 ounces unless instructed to do so. That would lend weight to the theory that imperial is kept alive mainly through the family and in the home. I can more easily imagine a child asking for a ‘bag’ than ‘4 ounces’. But even if this is the case, it is still valid to ask whether this jumble of two different systems is a desirable thing to have. You will say that it does not harm, I will say that it does indeed do harm if that child grows up and cannot use the metric it has been taught at school in any kind of work involving measurement or weight because its metric education has been drowned out by its parents’ insistence on imperial in the home.


  21. @Daniel
    “This Charlie P” has, I am sure, stated what I do for a living before. But, for what it’s worth, I’ll re-state it: I am a professional engineer working for a UK engineering company. A company which designs, manufactures and markets world-wide, a range of world-leading premium products – and which works exclusively in metric units. And it is from decades of experience in the (fully metric) UK engineering and technical sectors that I can see that we in the UK are not disadvantaged in our technological or engineering enterprises by the fact that outside of essential work use, the UK people prefer imperial units. I mingle with sections of the workforce each day, and when discussing specifications and such, metric is exclusively used. However, when chatting about football, commuting, fuel consumption, engine power, health, dieting, new babies or whatever, imperial is almost invariably used. Now why on earth should we worry so much about that?

    Secondly, have you ever shopped in the UK? Have you visited street markets? DIY stores? Electrical goods stores? Old fashioned sweet shops? Independent green grocers? Farm shops? Sure when you buy pre-packaged food it will have the quantity in metric – because that is a legal requirement, even if it is marked as 4 pints 2.272 litre (as for this milk) or 454g (1 lb as for this jam) or 681g (1 1/2 lb as for these sausages). But in the wider world, where the traders interact on a more personal level with their customers, such as street markets and independent shops, the prices will generally be displayed in imperial units primarily, with metric secondary if at all. Even in large diy and electrical goods chains, where goods are not strictly priced by measure, so not subject to the stipulations of the weights and measures regulations, imperial units will generally prevail (paint brush widths, saw lengths, hammer weights, tv screen sizes, PC monitors, fridge capacities, etc). and as you use Waitrose as an example, even their in-store customer scales, used by customers to check the weight of loose fruit and veg, have imperial markings alongside the metric ones.

    You see, metric is only used where it is absolutely mandated or essential, and that is, outside of work, generally in the relatively small world of selling strictly by weight or measure. Anywhere there is choice or room for an imaginative interpretation of the regulations, imperial will generally prevail.

    Our challenge is to accept that although change to metric-only is inevitable, it will be slow, and no amount of misinformation, disinformation or fallacious arguments will make it happen any quicker. In fact those tactics will probably result in it taking even longer because of the mistrust and confusion generated. We need to work much smarter if we want to have a positive impact.


  22. @Jake
    You are correct, loose dolly mixtures are priced per 100g. That is because there is a legal requirement for that. However, if you ask for 100g you get a second-take look. My wife has a sweet tooth, and I have tried this out all over the country. I have chatted to sweet shop owners in London, in the north and in the Midlands, and the message is consistent: most people ask for a quarter or a half pound. I asked about children too, and they generally ask for a “quarter” apparently, without necessarily knowing that means 4 ounces. This suits the shop keeper of course, because a quarter means 114 grams and a half pound means 227 grams. Win-win. 🙂

    That child will still use metric at school and in future work, and their cultural and social experience of buying sweets in traditional units will not affect their competence one bit, indeed it will probably enhance it.

    We risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we succeed, somehow, in stifling this aspect of our tradition and culture by force, rather than allowing the normal process of osmosis to transition us over time, as happens with other forms of cultural and language changes.


  23. @Charlie P
    So. The metric changeover in the UK, like that in the US, is taking far longer than it need to, and far, far longer than in several other former Imperial countries, such as Australia and South Africa. The survey by YouGov, commissioned by UKMA in 2013, confirmed this, as if we did not know it already. But you should not be surprised that there are many people out there who are trying to speed things up.


  24. @ Charlie P who wrote “most customers buy in imperial (2lb apples, 4oz dolly mixtures)” and “I asked about children too, and they generally ask for a ‘quarter’ apparently, without necessarily knowing that means 4 ounces”.

    A slight contradiction here: first of all you say that people/children ask for ‘four ounces’, then that they ask for ‘a quarter’, without knowing what they are asking for a quarter of. The latter seems plausible to me, but that negates your first point in which you suggest that children ask for sweets in imperial units without learning those units at school, seeing them in the sweetshop or understanding them.

    I understand your caution about what you view as accelerating the rate of change, but in my view fifty years of transition and counting can hardly be called breakneck speed. I do not share your view that asking for sweets in ‘traditional units’ will enhance a person’s competence in any career involving weight and measurement, with the possible exception of becoming a sweetshop owner.


  25. @derekp
    You say of the UK changeover to full metrication, that it “is taking far longer than it need to”. that is a subjective opinion. We have already achieved almost full metrication for isolated and relatively self-contained matters relating to business, commerce and government. What more do we need to do, and why speed it up? Why interfere with people’s way of life, even their freedom of expression and freedom of speech, and even risk negatively impacting our economy, by insisting that we use metric where the people clearly don’t need or want to use metric (as evidenced by the survey you cited)?

    So I’ll ask again: why speed up what will inevitably happen naturally anyway; especially when not a shred of credible evidence that it will yield an economic benefit (as opposed to an economic cost) has been forthcoming?


  26. What derekp said about Australia is right. Many of the changes to metric weights and measures took place in one fell swoop. For example, we went from Fahrenheit to Celsius temperatures in September 1972 and our road signs were changed in July 1974. Some changes need a long lead time but others are better done quickly and cleanly. Delay only increases the difficulty.

    Of course, the difference in Australia was there was no great opposition to the metric conversion. It was just something that we knew that had to be done, and that was that. When it comes to buying things we ask for a kilo of this or a couple of hundred grams of that.

    Customers asking for “a quarter” of anything is a bit of a worry. It leaves them open to being cheated, either by getting and paying for more than they ordered or being overcharged for short weight. As the Magna Carta stated, there should be “one measure.” More than one measure, for example a mixture of miles and kilometres or acres and hectares, just adds to the confusion.


  27. @Michael Glass:

    Charlie P is deaf to any form of reasoned argument in favour of eliminating Imperial. His reasons for allowing two sets of measurement units (I refuse to call Imperial a system – it is not) are false, but he cannot see that. He claims he is an engineer. Does he work in both metric and imperial? If so, how long before he makes an avoidable conversion error. Even if he doesn’t convert between Imperial and metric in his engineering work, he must occasionally get confused as to what certain measurements or values should be, thus precipitating a possible major error perhaps having life threatening consequences.

    And if he works solely in metric in his work, why not extend that to his non-work life as well? It would benefit his children if nothing else. As for all that “… interfere with people’s way of life, even their freedom of expression and freedom of speech…” nonsense, weights and measures have ALWAYS been highly regulated (and invariably mandating just one set of measures) since the earliest of established civilisations, and is practiced in every single country. How come he thinks that now is a good time for the UK to abandon that principle?

    Finally, he clams that completing metrication will negatively impact the British economy. What utter rubbish! The late Pat Naughtin, surely one of the most eminent advocates of metrication anywhere, calculated that not metricating costs the US economy tens of billions of dollars every year. I myself (a now retired chartered quantity surveyor) have made many estimates of the cost to the UK by not, for example, converting UK road signs to metric units, and it far exceeds any one time costs in making that conversion, or completing conversion generally.

    Charlie P’s arguments are specious, and should be treated accordingly.


  28. @Michael Glass
    When fully metricated Australians “ask for a kilo” of something, would you say it “leaves them open to being cheated, either by getting and paying for more than they ordered or being overcharged for short weight”? Or is it, as in UK sweet shops with a “quarter” (=quarter-pound=4 ounces), clear from the context that they mean a kilogram and not a kilometre, kilotonne, kilonewton, kilowatt or kilohertz?

    And did you know that, since at least 1994, imperial measures adhere to the “one measure” philosophy, if we assume that the metre does? Enshrined in the 1985 W&M legislation, and amendments, is the definition of a yard as an exact sub-multiple of a metre; hence a mile, defined as 1760 yards, in an exact multiple of a metre and the acre, defined as 4840 square yards, is an exact multiple of an hectare. Thus both the mile and the acre will be the same size throughout the land. So just like the kilometre and hectare really!


  29. @Michael:

    Metrication was a success in Australia because the Australian media fully supported it as was the case in new Zealand and South Africa. In Canada the media was supportive for a while then turned against it. In the US the media was completely opposed. The UK media is opposed at the present time.

    The media doesn’t care if its opposition damages the economy as long as it is in control. Isn’t it odd that a “first world” country like Britain has to endure austerity measures like one would expect for countries like Greece? Germany, China and others have a unified system of measuring units and they are booming. There is no dual system usage where one system is used in the workplace and another in the home. There is no chance of measurement conversion errors as one sees in the US & UK.

    There is a responsibility that comes with Freedom of the Press. The reckless attitude of the media is tantamount to treason as their actions empower the UK’s competitors and enemies at the expense of the UK. The UK media may have saved the pint and pound for the UK, but the result was the weakening of the economy and the surge of power and prosperity in Germany. But if the people of the UK want to be poor, why should anyone stop them from getting their wish?


  30. @ Charlie P:

    Your gloating over the resistance of the general population to using metric may be seen as some type of victory by you and I would agree with that sentiment except for one thing: it weakens, not strengthens the UK economy. The only “first world” economies that are struggling are the US & UK and both passionately resist metrication. There is no austerity in Germany or China.

    Germany and China, which have embraced metrication are booming.


    People around the world who read the English news are less likely to buy English products when they see there is a measurement war being fought in the UK. The quality of such products has to suffer, at least that is the perception.


  31. If Fred Nurk asked for a “quarter” of ham, the shopkeeper would hardly be able to give him 113.398093 grams. The shopkeeper will give him perhaps 115 or even 120 grams of ham. Over a year, those few extra grams are going to add up!

    Worse still is when Fred Nurk goes to get a kilo of apples. They are 99p per kilo in the supermarket but 46p per lb in the market stalls for fruit of equal quality. Not an easy one to work out without a calculator.

    To add to the confusion, the scales in the market stalls may not be checked for accuracy.

    When people are shopping it’s hard enough to work out where the best deals are, but add the extra confusion of unregulated scales and the consumer is doubly at risk.


  32. @John Frewen-Lord
    You assert that my arguments are specious, an assertion that you then attempt to support by misrepresenting me. Ad hominem is not a strong card in any argument.

    You wrote of me that I am “deaf to any form of reasoned argument in favour of eliminating Imperial.” You cannot know that because, despite me asking for it on more than one occasion, no reasoned argument has been presented here. All we have ever seen are unsubstantiated assertions and personal, dogma based, highly subjective opinions.

    I work in UK engineering and technology, so no conversions are required. Can you give us some examples of UK work where safety critical conversions are commonplace? Out of work we are free to choose which measurement system we use, so we tend to choose the one that best suits the context. Why would you think that what we do at work would overly influence that choice? Our children benefit from breadth as well as depth of knowledge of the world, surely? And no, weights and measures are not and have never been highly regulated generally. That is another one of the fallacies that I allude to. Regulation only ever occurs in small, carefully defined contexts – mostly to do with selling by weight or measure and now into wider areas of government administration too. Generally speaking we are free to use whatever units we choose in the big wide world outside of the limited regulated areas in industry, commerce and government administration. Why would we need to exaggerate the scope of the regulations, if not to mislead?

    Perhaps you can tell us then what your estimate of the value of the benefits (other than the saving of the pure conversion costs) to the UK of retaining imperial road signs, over converting them to metric was.


  33. @ Charlie P:

    “When fully metricated Australians “ask for a kilo” of something, would you say it “leaves them open to being cheated, either by getting and paying for more than they ordered or being overcharged for short weight”? Or is it, as in UK sweet shops with a “quarter” (=quarter-pound=4 ounces), clear from the context that they mean a kilogram and not a kilometre, kilotonne, kilonewton, kilowatt or kilohertz?”

    Why would they be cheated in Australia? They ask for so many grams, and they can see that on the scale display. If they ask for 150 g at a price of 1.65 $/100 g, and they if they get 160 g and are charged 2.64 $, it is quite easy to figure that they were charged correctly.

    In the UK, the chances of being cheated are increased as one is asking for something in a unit not appearing on the display. Someone may know that a quarter is a quarter pound, but how many will relate that to the grams being displayed? It makes it easier, either intentionally or accidentally for the clerk to oversupply and with the price per 100 g, not easily convertible to price per ounce or price per quarter, it makes it that much easier for the customer to be confused and not wanting to embarrass themselves, just accept what they are sold.

    How would someone interpret “kilo” to mean anything but kilogram in the context of a counter where goods are weighed out in the presence of the customer? The parties involved would have to be pretty dense to think that a kilo means something else other than a kilogram.

    In addition, for most quantities requested at such counters, the unit would be the gram. One would not ask for 0.15 kg, but 150 g.


  34. … Or, for example, “2 hectos of ham” (200 g, or 2 hg), as is customary – and thus not strictly SI compliant – in most countries that metricated long ago (i.e., a century or more).

    Anyway, ideally, the kilogram should probably change its name: a base unit with a prefix is not such a good thing, after all – a historically (un)motivated (and thus definitely supersedable, if there is a real will to do so) glitch in the SI, if one can say so…


  35. Why would it be a quarter of a pound? I would have thought a quarter of a kilogram would be a more reasonable assumption.


  36. @derekp
    You said “The metric changeover in the UK, …, is taking far longer than it need to”. Exactly. And possibly partly, even mainly, due to understandable scepticism caused by the profuse amount of disinformation, misinformation, logical fallacies, myths and downright lies presented by some in the name of pro-metrication.

    A “quarter” is 4 ounces. So to ask for a “quarter” is to ask for 4 ounces. There is no contradiction there.

    50 years is less than the length of living memory, so be patient. I’d say you need to wait three generations, at least, before revisiting the need to force anything. Culture and tradition is only kept if it is continued. All around the world we see children being encouraged to keep local cultural traditions alive, why not here?


  37. @ Charlie P who wrote: “50 years is less than the length of living memory … Culture and tradition is only kept if it is continued.”

    Charlie, it depends, I suppose, on what you mean by ‘culture and tradition’. As I have said before, culture and tradition are simply a way of doing things. I have seen many changes in culture and tradition over my lifetime, including decimalisation when I was a student, and the phasing out of certain outdated imperial units and their replacement by modern units. There has been no great popular uprising against any perceived loss of culture and tradition as a result of these changes (except from a small number of traders). There has been no great mourning at the passing of shillings and pence, or the move from gallons for fuel sales to litres. No one has said we have lost our culture and tradition as a result of modernising society in so many respects. I am sure you do not think that culture and tradition are somehow like silver candlesticks, to be kept in a cupboard and polished once a week. But that is exactly what you are sounding like.


  38. I recently watched a series of three excellent programmes on BBC2 about Napoleon, presented by Andrew Roberts. Roberts seems to be a fan of Napoleon but made no mention of his replacement of the metric system with mesures usuelles. Surprising as Roberts is an Honorary member of BWMA.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: