Metric Views has come across a personal view on the use of the metric system in Germany that may surprise some of our readers.
Ken Alder, in his book,”The measure of all things”, has this to say about the adoption of the metric system in Germany:
“… in 1868 the German Zollverein – the Prussian-led customs union that laid the groundwork for German unification – agreed to require the metric system as of 1 January 1872.
“The metric system appealed to the various German states for the same reason that it appealed to the Italians: … (it) was acceptable because it favoured no one. … In 1861, when Austria (Prussia’s rival) conferred with the industrialized states of western Germany on common weights and measures, the Prussians refused to join in the discussions. But by 1867, when Prussia had won the upper hand against Austria, it could behave more magnanimously. Prussia agreed not to impose its own measures and instead adopt the metric system as a natural, neutral standard sanctioned by science.”
As always, politics trumped rational argument.
Now, almost 150 years on, a German blogger, Adrian Sieber, gives us a startling view of the current use of measurement systems in his home country:
Every country in the world is metric to some degree, even the USA. Some would also say that no country is entirely metric, and Sieber’s article lends support to this suggestion. Perhaps we in the UK should be not too demoralized by the slow progress of our transition, even though the disgraceful ducking and weaving over the past 44 years by the UK Department for Transport and successive Transport Ministers still defies rational explanation.
25 thoughts on “There may be hope for us yet”
If anyone wanted to, one can go to any country and find and make a list of obscure units. The question is, how are they really used? Are they used to measure or are they just trade units?
Date & Time standards are not governed under the BIPM and are not a part of the SI, so their mention is moot.
The question concerning “”Pferdestärken” (actually, this a plural word and would be “Pferdestärke” in the singular). The only way to get “Pferdestärke” is to measure in watts (torque “Nm/rad” x speed “rad/s”) and divide by 735.5. “Pferdestärke” predates kilowatts and continues only because it gives larger numbers and makes the engine appear more powerful.
I purchased a car in December 2015 in the US that was listed as having a 125 hp engine. In reality it was 125 PS (92 kW). PS numbers are bigger than hp numbers, so the PS can be used to show a larger figure than hp. It’s all a deception.
The use of speaking out the letters for units like k m h for kilometres per hour is common, so what is the point? Even if the / is not pronounced everyone knows it is there. Nobody would use k p h.
Seemeilen and knoten are falsely assumed to not be metric because somehow they incorporate the word mile. Grant it they are not coherent with SI, but they are defined as exactly 1852 m and not some round value in feet.
Kalorie is pretty much ingrained in the nutritional industry world-wide with some exceptions. It is actually an older metric unit, so even if not SI, it is based on kilograms and degrees Celsius.
None of the examples of the zoll show a need to measure. It is all trade descriptors and as it usually goes with trade descriptors, they can always be exaggerated with nobody noticing nor caring. How many people in Germany would ever pull out an inch ruler to check those inches and what would they do if the name doesn’t precisely match the actual size?
Karat is a specialty unit used in the precious metals/stones industries. As noted it can mean either purity based on 24 or a mass of 200 mg. As noted, the carat is used to make something sound less like a deception. 12 carat gold doesn’t sound like half but 50 % does.
Every example given proves that these examples are rare are things most people won’t encounter daily. They are obscure and so rare that most people don’t even think about them. You have to go out of your way and make an conscious effort to bring these to someone’s attention.
I’ve always said that Germany is the most metric country. Their entire industrial base is fully metric and export their metric designed, engineered, manufactured and serviced goods in metric world-wide. Contrast that to the US where the industrial base, what remains of it, trips all over themselves when one company using metric has to deal with one who does not.
I could live with obscure units on an infrequent basis, but what a headache they would be on a daily basis, something I’m sure every German would concur with.
I am sure that many of those units fall into the category of ‘colloquial’ usage. A bit like milestone and yardstick in English – these words now have meanings that bear little resemblance to what they originally meant. I have no problem with that.
The big question implied in the article – does usage of such words impede a country’s understanding of the metric system? I would suggest not, especially if Germany is any indicator. Unlike in the UK (and this in effect continues my response to the previous article), where we still have a long way to go. My wife signed up to a conference in London recently on stock market investing. I attended to accompany her, but purely as an observer, not as a participant (doesn’t interest me). Most attendees were hot-to-trot 20-, 30- and 40-somethings.
The course presenter was describing how concentrating on wrong details means you can lose sight of the big picture, and asked the question: If a bottle of wine weighs 180 grams, and the bottle weighed twice as much as the wine, how much does the wine weigh? (All wrong numbers, was my immediate thought.) Rhetorically he immediately asked: “Who said 60 grams?” All hands went up. I now knew where he was going on this, but had to keep silent. “Wrong answer! Anyone know how much a bottle of wine actually weighs?” One person hesitantly said, “More than 60 grams?” “Yeesss! way more! Anyone know how much more?” “500 grams?” someone else suggested. Finally he offered the correct answer. “Over one kilo!” The person next to me whispered, “I would never have thought a bottle of wine weighed that much.”
When we as a country can get the big picture right, and properly understand and visualise metric measures, then perhaps that might be the time to really think there is hope for us yet.
John Frewen-Lord says:2016-03-13 at 13:16
This is exactly where ‘we’ (or should it be ‘they’) miss out on the benefits of using metric.
There surely ought to be no educated person in UK that does not know 750 ml of water based liquid weighs around 750 g plus or minus the sg and temperature issue, and I would guess most ‘hot-to-trot 20-, 30- and 40-somethings’ (YUPPIES in our day) would know how much wine is in a bottle. It is how much the bottle weighs though, a lot more than the 3 litre cardboard box and plastic bag that my wine comes in.
An interesting side line on this one, ‘too much bottle’. ( http://www.timatkin.com/articles?442 ) shows a bottle to be 400 g to 960 g depending on how much they want to pad out the product.
You seem to be saying we can excuse the Germans for using non-SI units, but not the British. Perhaps that because so many of your arguments rely on it being untrue.
You say of the Germans: “Their entire industrial base is fully metric and export their metric designed, engineered, manufactured and serviced goods in metric world-wide.” What’s the logical difference between them and the UK which also has a fully metric industrial base and which export their metric designed, engineered, manufactured and serviced goods in metric world-wide?
You say that their Seemeilen and knoten are metric because they are defined in metres. Just like the UK’s statute mile then, which relies on the definition of one yard as 0.9144 metres. It also appears that they, like us, also use calories for food, inches for various purposes, carats.
It sounds as though a scam has been accidentally exposed here, and that the basis of so many arguments here that rely on the statement that “Germany is fully metricated”, has now been comprehensively undermined.
These legacy units are like our usage of Roman numerals. Exceptions are the use of nautical miles and knots at sea and the measurement of time. Most of the exceptions mentioned are trivial, but some are a nuisance, like when two measures are used for one purpose, or misleading, such as describing screens by the diagonal.
It came as a surprise to me that Germans still use the calorie. In Australia this has largely been replaced by the kilojoule.
Germany is metricated: every child learns and knows the metric system and can use it immediately if they move into a trade or profession that involves measurement. They do not need ‘special instruction’ in using what they have learnt at school, as I understand is often the case in the UK. The German navy uses ‘nautical miles’ in the same way as airline pilots worldwide use ‘feet’ – because their instruments are calibrated that way (though many instruments display both feet and/or metres). The latter are now specialised uses (probably due to past and present UK and US domination of the seas and the aviation industry). But that does not mean German citizens do not know or use metric for their everyday purposes. I happen to know Germany very well. Nobody in their ordinary life uses anything other than metric to describe their weight, their height or to measure spaces in their homes, for example. Nor do health magazines use anything other than metric for weights and heights. And your German doctor or nurse will not offer to ‘translate’ your weight or height into some pre-metric system. That said, I admit I have in recent years seen how TVs and computers in German shops have started to show inches in addition to cm widths, but this is a relatively new phenomenon. Even IKEA in continental Europe shows dimensions in metric units plus inches, and I have reason to believe ‘imperial forces’ in the UK may be behind that. They did not use to do so twenty years ago. (IKEA probably prefers to have one approach for the whole of Europe, so they show both metric and imperial on labels). The fact that inches are sometimes shown in adverts and on packaging does not detract from the ‘metricness’ of a country like Germany, which is a fully metricated country in any normal sense of the word. I would be surprised if a German disagreed with that.
@Charlie P 2016-03-14 at 12:08
Leaving Germany specifically out of this, instead insert any and all countries in which there has been full usage of metric/SI for several generations. That would include most European countries. For an Imperial advocate (which you obviously are, despite you saying not) to suddenly come up with Imperial being defined in metric is just a laughable reversal of your pillar of faith. An argument against all you stand for just to make another argument.
These metric countries would not be fooled by obtuse measures because they relate only to metric. In UK we all, myself included, are presented with a confusing mix of muddled measures where it is sometimes (quite often) difficult to understand what is actually meant. It is easy to deliberately cheat a customer, i.e. selling carpet and curtains by the square yard, and grocers selling in pounds when mixed in with kg. I find this amusing when people choose to be so exposed by using shops that openly perform this act. I do not find it so amusing in the supermarkets where dual pricing, barely large enough to read, is used in the pretense that it helps the customers.
For you to say UK industry is fully metric seems to contradict your own belief. Try buying UK made metric bedding, UK made metric measuring devices, UK made metric shoes, UK made metric clothes.
We in UK have for 50 years now, had to try to decide just what we are buying, is 1m (3′) really 1m, or is it only a yard? Or is it just a description?
We all know Imperial will exist throughout the world for as long as man is on it. That does not mean it is being understood. A fully metric country is still that, for all practical purposes. Every country has a mix of foreign words in its spoken language, that can hardly be a claim that the country does have a 100% language of its own.
Of course metric countries use the knot, to them it is whatever in metres, and metres only. When UK uses the knot it is a long (or short) mile, or something in yards, or something in feet or maybe something in metres, I don’t know and I don’t care.
Nothing, nothing ever is 100% accurate, nothing can ever be 100% pure. On that basis we are all cheats, liers and scammers if you want to take that route of pure pedantic-ism.
You assert that I am “an Imperial advocate (which you obviously are, despite you saying not)”. You have either not read or not understood my posts here, or you are deliberately trying to smear me. I am nothing of the sort. I am simply an advocate of free and informed choice. The main thing that I speak out against here is the blatant peddling of misinformation, pure untruths and the (deliberate?) confusion and conflation of correlation and causation. To argue on the one hand that we should get rid of the mile (which is legally defined as an exact number of metres) because it is not metric and on the other hand excuse Germany for using the Seemeilen, claiming it is really metric because it is defined as an exact number of metres is blatant sophistry.
And then you go on to accuse traders who are honest enough, sincere enough and decent to use units that their customers demand and expect as dishonest! Pot, kettle, black I’m afraid.
You then go on to attack me for restating what I have often pointed out here, that the UK have a fully metric industrial base and which export their metric designed, engineered, manufactured and serviced goods in metric world-wide. But you didn’t challenge the statement I made did you, instead you misrepresented what I said as implying that the UK sales and marketing of consumer goods is also fully metric, and went on to challenge that, which was easy because we all know that is not the case – as the British still prefer imperial measures outside of work.
Try to keep to the facts and try to use use rational and logical arguments and avoid fallacies. That way we stick a chance of revealing the real issues (if there are any), and can concentrate on proposing solutions for them. There is nothing less likely to win an argument than irrationally attacking people because of an opinion they hold rather than weighing up their reasoning for holding that opinion.
I will be hopeful when I am not the **only** person I know who measures their height in m and their weight (and that of their babies) in kg, and doesn’t immediately convert every metric measurement imperial.
It was my parents’ generation who were tasked with this conversion. They failed to do the job. I am now in my 50s and have seen my own generation similarly fail. My children are leaving school and don’t understand why I make a fuss.
There is no hope for this country. (I mean that in terms of metrication. Other areas where we do or don’t lack hope are off-topic.)
“You seem to be saying we can excuse the Germans for using non-SI units, but not the British. Perhaps that because so many of your arguments rely on it being untrue.”
I never said the Germans use non-SI units. I said:
“If anyone wanted to, one can go to any country and find and make a list of obscure units. The question is, how are they really used? Are they used to measure or are they just trade units? ”
Now, who is being untrue? The Germans don’t need an excuse for encountering once in a blue moon a non-metric unit.
Would Charlie P agree to adopt the same level of metrication in the UK as exists in Germany? Would he accept metric only road signs? Would he universal accept metric only pricing in the shops?
I don’t know how prevalent it is today, but not so long ago, people still asked for deli items by the pfund in Germany? But, did the merchant switch to a pfund scale? No, the pfund was understood to be 500 g and was weighed out on a fully metric scale as 500 g. Would Charlie P accept this for England?
Charlie P wants to use imperial in the home? I wonder how much he tries to force it on the job. But in any case, would Charlie P accept a fully metric UK in which he can go home and convert to imperial all of the metric he encountered during the day? Would he be happy doing that?
So, lets give the UK the same measurement exposure as Germany has. Then those who know metric can have the advantage of understanding what is presented to them. The charlie P’s of England would have the disadvantage because they now have to spend their free time with pencil, paper and calculator in hand converting and cussing those out who like the Germans use the same units on the job, in the market and in the home. You can have your choice, just don’t whine to us of the hardship it causes you which you fail to admit to yet we can tell by your response it has to be very painful.
As the “**only** person” you know who measures their height in m and their weight in kg, perhaps it is time you stopped being so obstinate and perhaps started to conform with the norms of the society in which you live. Just a thought.
And no, your parents’ generation did not fail to do the job – metric in the workplace has been generally, widely and successfully, fully implemented and accepted everywhere it is required. But outside of that work domain, society at large has decided that the time is not yet right to jettison their culture, traditions and preferences – and have generally rejected blanket metrication for private and personal applications. We should all, as members of that society, surely respect that collective consensus.
@ Charlie P 2016-03-17 at 08:47
You say: – We should all, as members of that society, surely respect that collective consensus.
So, what about the “collective consensus” of the UK workforce where metric is “fully implemented and accepted everywhere it is required.” (sic)?
It seems totally ridiculous to me to use metric all day, then go home and start using some obscure measures that few understand, that is the bit I fail to grasp.
It would seem we have a divided collective consensus, the difference between using and understanding. Some of us think it is more rational to use just the one system (about 97% of the world population), a pretty decisive consensus of opinion I would say.
I tend to agree it may not necessarily be the parents who have failed, but the media and successive elected governments. However I would venture to suggest many media presenters are themselves parents, and indeed MP’s, and teachers also. Given that on a totally practical level it is much easier to use just one system of anything this seems quite reasonable.
To me personally, nothing presents this more than metric use in the kitchen, where incremental variations of quantities is far easier in metric than in cups and fl.oz. of indeterminate sizes. But we have a PM that says publicly he prefers to use Imperial in the kitchen, professional chefs seem to agree with me.
You once again bring in this culture, tradition thing, Roman torture, the power of Kings and Lords of the manor, the invasion of 1066. Nothing forced on us, all quite voluntary of course? Culture (of slavery) and tradition (of brutality), yes, don’t we love it.
Some years ago I was part of an international team working on an IT project located in Germany. Chatting over coffee one morning, one of my British colleagues mentioned his weight is stones and pounds. A Spanish colleague then commented “What sort of barbaric measurement is that?”
For the record, I have never weighed myself in stones and pounds. Until my early 20’s, I used pounds (as was the norm in South Africa – I was in the under 173 lb category in the university judo team) and after South Africa adopted the metric system, I started using kilograms. When I left South Africa and settled in the UK, I decided that since the UK was in the process of adopting the metric system, there was no need for me to familiarize myself with stones and pounds, though as an approximation, I am aware that 3 stone is about 20 kg.
You said: “I never said the Germans use non-SI units”, well what did you mean by “Seemeilen and knoten are falsely assumed to not be metric because somehow they incorporate the word mile. Grant it they are not coherent with SI, but they are defined as exactly 1852 m and not some round value in feet.” then? That is the section I was referring to, not the one you then quoted.
The rest of your post then goes on to labour numerous other false points in which you seem to be implying I have a personal preference for imperial over metric. I’ve never declared my preference other than for public preference to prevail…
You ask would I “agree to adopt the same level of metrication in the UK as exists in Germany?” Would I “accept metric only road signs?” Would I “universal [sic] accept metric only pricing in the shops?” The answer to each is, of course, a big fat YES – providing it was the will of the people. That is, provided those states resulted from popular demand rather than because of a diktat from above or from elsewhere. And the same for the question to me about the pfund.
You ponder whether I want “to use imperial in the home?” To be honest, I use whichever system best suits whatever I am measuring, and the context. You wonder how I try “to force it on the job.” I don’t understand that statement. You ask whether I would “accept a fully metric UK in which [I] can go home and convert to imperial all of the metric [I] encountered during the day?” And “Would [I] be happy doing that?” I don’t understand those either.
You then say “So, lets give the UK the same measurement exposure as Germany has.” How do you mean “give” and what do you mean by “measurement exposure”? And when you say “Then those who know metric can have the advantage of understanding what is presented to them.” do you mean at the expense of the minority who do not know metric – or what, I do not see what point you are making. And what do you mean by “The charlie P’s of England”? People like me with an open mind, who know and can operate under both systems equally, and who respect the traditions and culture of the British, and who are not happy for the desires and wishes of the British to be trampled on with no evidence that a change would yield any benefit, by the proponents of mindless and pointless bureaucracy?
And what’s your obsession with converting from one system to another – why would anyone want to do that – especially the silent majority who probably, like me, understand both systems equally and can happily operate in either?
And your last sentence “You can have your choice, just don’t whine to us of the hardship it causes you which you fail to admit to yet we can tell by your response it has to be very painful.” I do not recognise the “hardship” you are referring to.
Let me just restate for those who erroneously, like Daniel, think I advocate the imperial system… I do not advocate any one system over another. I am happy and comfortable with either. What I deplore though is the notion of trying to force the use of another system over an established system without popular support, and by the dishonest use of false reasoning and misrepresentation of “evidence” to “justify” such a change.
Let’s hear the facts without skewing and misrepresentation and let’s not attack contributors for having the “wrong” opinions.
Remember that this so-called “consensus” about height and weight only applies in the UK. It doesn’t apply in the Irish Republic, or Australia, New Zealand or South Africa.
Remember also that consensuses can change, like the use of Celsius for temperatures in place of Fahrenheit.
Charlie P wrote: “Your parents’ generation did not fail to do the job – metric in the workplace has been generally, widely and successfully, fully implemented and accepted everywhere it is required. But outside of that work domain, society at large has decided that the time is not yet right to jettison their culture, traditions and preferences “.
That is a misrepresentation of the actual facts. The original plan to adopt the metric system in the UK did not set out to introduce it ‘everywhere it is required’. The plan was to roll out metric sector by sector, including across the road network, until metric was the norm not only for industry but for use by the private citizen in all aspects of public life. Why else would the metric system be taught in school if that were not the goal? It is not ‘society at large that has decided that the time is not yet right to jettison their culture, traditions and preferences’, it is the failure of successive governments to lead the way, as it does in other policy areas, to highlight the case for a single system of measurement and to implement that system. As far as ‘jettisoning their culture’ is concerned, I have been over that ground before. (There is no such thing as a ‘culture’ of trying to run two incompatible systems in parallel.) The change to metric (and modernity) has not been ‘accepted everywhere it is required’. There are still street traders who to refuse to comply with metric pricing legislation. We understand that Trading Standards have ‘higher priorities’ to deal with, but at what point does a misdemeanour become an offence? At what point does ‘a cherished tradition’ become a means of misleading the customer?
For one who is so exacting and critical of every word written by the supporters of a single national sytem of measurement in the UK (to which I would add my own proviso that anyone is at liberty to measure anything any way they like in their private sphere), Charlie P seems to fall short of his own standards in his own comments.
The problem is that someone like you, who understands both systems and can operate in either, is not part of the silent majority but part of a very small minority. A minority that probably grew up in pre-metric times but was fortunate enough to be exposed to metric measurements through the course of work. Most people in the UK don’t fall into that category. The majority of people know a little bit of either method. The young ones are more familiar with metric because of their schooling and the old ones are more familiar with imperial because it’s what they and their parents grew up with, but very few are proficient at both methods because the general acceptance of both means they can manage to muddle through. The younger ones, the ones more familiar with metric, are still using some imperial because of the forces of conformity. Your reply to David Brown – “Perhaps it is time you stopped being so obstinate and perhaps started to conform with the norms of the society in which you live.” is a typical example of forcing someone to adapt through conformity. The popular press does this all the time.
Constantly having to convert from one method to another is cumbersome and mistake-prone and using non-systemic imperial units alongside systemic metric units negates the purpose of using a system . Profound knowledge of one method of measurement is far better than a smattering of knowledge of both and I think you’ll agree that the SI method is the preferable one to know in the twenty first century. Constantly muddling on with two incompatible methods of measurement is never going to produce that result. For many people it’s necessary to make a clean break with the past in order to fully immerse themselves in something new. You’re obviously one of the fortunate ones who didn’t need to do that but the real “silent majority” do and constantly allowing them the crutch of the familiar is hindering their progress, not helping them.
@BrianAC 2016-03-17 at 11:51
You say: “It seems totally ridiculous to me to use metric all day, then go home and start using some obscure measures that few understand, that is the bit I fail to grasp.” Why pretend or suggest that the imperial system is obscure or that few people understand it? Clearly, given the free choice of the 2 systems, the majority of the British population choose imperial, despite what they use at work. Do you think they would do that if they didn’t understand it? What you appear to fail to grasp is that they prefer imperial – perhaps that’s because it’s more user friendly, or do you have another explanation?
You then say: “Given that on a totally practical level it is much easier to use just one system”. An assertion you fail to support. Both systems have their strengths, why not play to them – and use the system best suited to the job in hand?
And then this: “To me personally, nothing presents this more than metric use in the kitchen, where incremental variations of quantities is far easier in metric than in cups and fl.oz. of indeterminate sizes.” Your personal preferrence is your business, others clearly and demonstrably disagree.
And finally this: “You once again bring in this culture, tradition thing, Roman torture, the power of Kings and Lords of the manor, the invasion of 1066. Nothing forced on us, all quite voluntary of course? Culture (of slavery) and tradition (of brutality), yes, don’t we love it.” Are you saying we should revert to the practices of the dark ages to force people, against their clear will, to use your preferred measurement system?
@Jake 2016-03-18 at 09:08
You wrote: “There is no such thing as a ‘culture’ of trying to run two incompatible systems in parallel.” The old system is embedded in our culture, the new system has been adopted for some uses on top. They aren’t necessarily viewed as two incompatible systems though. They are seen as complimentary: if metric is required it is used – such as at work, if imperial is the custom then it is used – such as outside of work. Humans are adaptable and can mix and match seemlessly.
Then: “There are still street traders who to refuse to comply with metric pricing legislation.” Probably to keep their customers happy. an there is nothing wrong with that. You can bet that when the customers demand metric the traders will bend over backwards to satisfy them.
Then: “We understand that Trading Standards have ‘higher priorities’ to deal with, but at what point does a misdemeanour become an offence?” When it actually causes harm perhaps – rather than when it is beneficial?
And finally: “For one who is so exacting and critical of every word written by the supporters of a single national sytem of measurement in the UK (to which I would add my own proviso that anyone is at liberty to measure anything any way they like in their private sphere), Charlie P seems to fall short of his own standards in his own comments.” Everything I wrote was sincere, which part are you struggling to understand?
@Cliff 2016-03-18 at 21:32:
You wrote: “The problem is that someone like you, who understands both systems and can operate in either, is not part of the silent majority but part of a very small minority.” I beg to differ. We that the UK is one of the biggest (top 4 or 5) economies in the world, and we know UK commerce and industry is metricated. That means a huge proportion of the UK workforce works in metric. We also know that the majority of the population favour imperial outside of work. The sums mean a majority of the huge proportion are therefore capable in both – so certainly not a “very small minority”.
You also wrote: “Constantly having to convert from one method to another is cumbersome and mistake-prone and using non-systemic imperial units alongside systemic metric units negates the purpose of using a system .” Why do you think conversion is constant? At work we don’t need to convert as all is metric. At home we don’t need to convert because we use the most appropriate unit for the circumstances, inches for TVs, stone for weight-watching, litres for petrol prices or whatever. We are truly bi-unit.
Finally you wrote: “For many people it’s necessary to make a clean break with the past in order to fully immerse themselves in something new.” Why when we can manage so well as we are – don’t forget, the UK already punches above it’s weight in international commerce and industry – so why risk upsetting the apple-cart?
Sadly there are still some Daily Telegraph journalists that use “kph” as the abbreviation for kilometres per hour. Hang your head in shame Peter Hall, the kph kid.
The movie “The Martian” staring Matt Damon is a science fiction motion picture that uses entirely metric measurements. I suspect this is the reason it did not collect the Oscars it richly deserved.
@ Charlie P:
The original intention of government was never to keep what you call the imperial ‘culture’ and to place metric for ‘some uses on top’ (whatever that means). It was to replace old units across the board by a single metric system. We have ended up with what you call a ‘mix and match’ because of governments’ failure to carry their plans through, not because this was ever part of government policy.
You say there is ‘nothing wrong’ in street traders defying the law. So you support law-breaking.
You write that everything you say here is ‘sincere’. Do you think that those of us who call for a single system of measurement are insincere?
You constantly maintain that we have the jumble of units in circulation as the result of popular demand. That is most definitely not the case. I fail to see how you do not see that yourself.
@ Charlie P:
The best performing British industries are those such as Finance, Mining, Oil and Gas, Pharmaceuticals and Insurance. With the exception of those at the cliff-face, the majority of the workforce in those industries need little knowledge of metrology. Traditional industries that relied on a sound knowledge of measurement such as ship-building and other heavy engineering have been in decline in the UK for years. It’s true that Aerospace and the largely foreign-owned motor vehicle industry is doing extremely well but that only employs about 200,000 people at the most and a lot of those people are in administration. Hardly a majority of the UK workforce.
Many people in the UK who work with measurement might have a good knowledge of the metric measurements that are pertinent to their industry but they often have a huge gap in their knowledge of the measurements that they don’t use day to day. I work in architecture which has been totally metric since I started my first job in London in 1970. My colleagues and I think in and use exclusively millimetres, metres and square metres every day. Hectares and kilometres are used less in architecture because of scale, and are usually used for master planning. Despite the exclusive use of metres at work, some (not all) of my workmates in the UK still automatically talk of walking a “quarter-of-a-mile” or “500 yards” without having very much idea of how many metres there are in that distance. Some still don’t know their weight in kilograms despite engineering computations for mass being in kg and buying their fruit and vegetables in those units for years. It’s not because they prefer using measurements they have little concept of. It’s because of convention. There’s a subtle pressure in the UK to force the use of measures still shown on road signs and continually used by newspapers and the media. The lukewarm acceptance of the metric system by the Government doesn’t help. Most people are too apathetic to challenge convention and some even risk the castigation of their peers for trying to break the mould.
In Australia the situation is very different. The metric system is ubiquitous. It’s used holistically as it was meant to be used. What is used at work is fully ingrained in people’s minds and is used outside of work and all the time. There are few gaps in people’s knowledge of measurement and there’s no pressure to conform with a primitive but complicated method of measurement dating from a time before Australia was discovered. People in my Melbourne office talk of walking 1.5km home from work or losing 3kg on a diet and everyone can clearly visualise what that means. There is no confusion. Clients and estate agents in Australia fully understand what a 100 square metre apartment looks like without demanding conversions to square feet or having to give comparisons using numbers of bedrooms. An Australian car salesman will give the fuel consumption of the car in litres/100 km because petrol is sold in litres and the roads are measured in kilometres. It’s all simple common sense.
Britain may very well punch above its weight in international commerce and industry.
If it does so, it does so DESPITE having an antiquated method of measurement not BECAUSE of it. I cannot see how the full adoption of a modern rational system of measurement would “upset the applecart”. I think it would anchor the applecart firmly in place. You said in one of your other posts, Charlie, that Britain has one of the highest road safety records in the world. An admirable feat. Do you now rest on your laurels and say no further improvement in safety is now necessary because it might “upset the applecart”? I don’t think so.
The adoption of the SI/Metric system is time and culture specific. In New Zealand before 1972 we used the Imperial system of measures: milk was sold in glass pint bottles (568 ml), petrol was sold in gallons and roads measured in miles …. Then from 1972 onwards all these measures changed: all road signs went metric in 1973, shops had to sell in metric by 1974 and importantly the building industry changed to the SI based standard using millimetres (mm). By 1978 with some education and effective government compulsion all active measurement use was 100% SI/Metric. In Australia the process was similar.
The Imperial measure things that remain are sizes for tyres, televisions and so on. Informal things if you like. The Imperial pint of 568 ml became a new size Metric pint of 600 ml, now mainly used as a soft drink bottle size. But no one in New Zealand (or Australia) really uses Imperial anymore, some people refer to their personal height informally in feet and inches and fewer and fewer people still for new born baby weight (although no one knows how many ounces are in a pound!) but that is about it. An mixed example would be a Rugby player profile: 6’2” (188 cm) tall, weighing 105 kg ……. stones and pounds have fallen out of use completely.
A strange mixture of Imperial and Metric measures seems to be more common in the UK and Canada, although the SI/Metric system is as official in those countries as in NZ, Australia, South Africa and the Pacific. The UK doesn’t have far to go as the building industry is 100% SI/Metric although road signs are still in miles, Canada uses km/h and km on road signs but has a building industry still using Imperial measures. And last of all, unless the USA converts completely to SI/Metric measures I think all other English-speaking countries will remain somewhat mixed up as they are today.
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