A Driving Instructor's Blog

Somewhere in my posts about the disastrous decision to leave the EU I mentioned that it wouldn’t be long before some prat started going on about bringing back Imperial units of measure. Well, although I said it over 3 months ago, here’s confirmation that I was right.

The leading jackass for the movement, Warwick Cairns, claims:

…imperial measurements are not only easily understandable but inherently popular.

“There is something about feet and inches that feel part of our identity and culture,” he says. “They make sense on a human scale, they make sense on a cultural scale. It is part of us.”

Complete bullshit. Imperial measurements are only “easier” for people who are not likely to need to worry about using them for many more years – because they won’t be around. The main protagonists in all this are old fossils who hate Johnny Foreigners, and who were brought up using the Imperial system. They represent the past, not the future. The woman in the picture below is the archetypal anti-metric idiot (apologies for the stereotyping, but some people make it just too easy).

I can assure you that, having been in the first generation involved when the switch to metric was made, doing maths using an antiquated multi-base system – and one where the bases were variously 4, 8, 12, 14, 16, 20, etc. – was no fun at all. Doing maths in base 10 was much easier, and it meant that instead of pissing about with over-complicated fundamentals, you could start learning serious stuff.

Why have a system where there are 12 inches to a foot, and three feet to a yard, and where the basic unit of the inch was split into halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds, and so? You had thous, inches, feet, yards, chains, furlongs, miles, leagues, fathoms, cables, nautical miles, links, and rods.

Having a metre consisting of 100 centimetres makes much more sense. And splitting each centimetre into tenths (1 millimetre), hundredths, thousandths, and so on makes calculations using the metric units inherently easier. And it extends naturally to volume and area.

It was the same with pounds (weight). The basic pound, or lb, consisted of 16 ounces (oz). But there were 14lbs to a stone (st). Then you had the hundredweight (cwt) – which is 112lbs or 8st in the UK, but 100lb in the US (so the names “short hundredweight” and “long hundredweight” have to be employed). The US doesn’t use stones. But the different cwt weights then mean that there are both long- and short-tons, since a ton in the UK is 2240lb, but in the US it’s 2000lb. And right down the bottom end you had grains and drachms. A grain was 1/7000th of a lb, a drachm was 1/256th lb, an ounce (oz) was 1/16th lb, there were 14lbs to a st, 28lbs to a quarter, 112lbs in a cwt, and then the ton.

For liquids, you have even greater differences between the UK and US measures. A UK pint is 34.7 cubic inches, but a US pint is 28.9 cubic inches. Therefore, a US gallon is 231.2 cubic inches, whereas the UK gallon is 277.4 cubic inches. Then you had gills, quarts, and pecks. And minims, scruples, and drachms, Let’s not even go into dry measures, with bushels.

Historically, many countries have used some or all of these units, but even in the UK the actual definition has changed several times. Indeed, many American definitions are older historical ones that would have applied in the UK at one time or another. It seems that just about every king we ever had filled up his favourite barrel and then decreed that it was the standard unit for something or other. Even when it was just about to be scrapped, the Imperial system had the Imperial pound, the a Avoirdupois pound, and the Troy pound. There were some others used by merchants, too.

Several Imperial measurements had various kinks and corrections that had to be applied somewhere (e.g. the fathom, which was regarded as being 6 feet, when it was in fact 1/1000 of a nautical mile – so actually 6.08 feet).

The Imperial system was – and still is – a God-awful mess and it’s place is on the scrapheap of history. It was nothing like the panacea being suggested by these out of date idiots.

(1 views today)