units of mesaure

I was chatting to Mike @ realdadshangout earlier about stuff and the age-old subject of measurement came up, him being from the US of A and me being Brit.

I grew up in the UK to feet, miles, inches, yards, pints, gallons, pounds and stones. This is despite being born the year the system was supposed to have changed to metric. In theory I was supposed to have learned all about metres, centimetres, kilometres, litres, kilos, grams and centigrade.

But it never happened. Well, not really. School tried hard and I don’t know how to measure in fractions of inches, although I do know how big an inch is and how many there are in a foot. We did all our measuring in cm and mm at school.

Trouble is, my parents and everyone else in the UK were still on the imperial system, so metric never really took off, despite being the official unit of measurement. Plus all the things in real life were still imperial – pints, miles, height (feet and inches), weight, bags of apples, fuel in gallons. So its no wonder that metric never really stuck.

We we have the stupid situation now where distance is measured in miles on the road, but in metres in schools. Where liquids are sold in pints in the pub, but you buy milk in either pints or litres. Where fuel is dispensed in litres, but cars measure efficiency in miles per gallon. Where you buy a pound of apples, but a kilo of chocolate.

Its nuts and very confusing.

I have no idea (visually) how big a centimetre is, but know an inch is the length of my thumb from to first knuckle. I can weigh a pound in my hand but not a kilo. I know a pint when I see one, but can’t really tell you what a litre is, and I know I’m 5 feet 7, but what that is in the actual unit of measurement I was supposed to learn at school, I have no idea. The only thing I think we did learn was temperature – in Celsius and not Fahrenheit (sorry my American friends, I can do 32F, 65F and 100F in C, other than that, it’ll be a wild guess or google)

And people wonder why the UK never entered the Euro and joined up with Europe – its been nearly 40 years since they went metric and they’re only 1/3 of the way converted. Can you imagine having to change over to 100% metric and the Euro? People would spontaneously combust with confusion.

So, world travellers, when you come to the UK, get a conversion app for your iPhones. Then order a pint.

God save the Queen.

22 Comments on “units of mesaure

  1. And what a mess it’ll be when the U.K. adopts the Euro standard of labeling by item! No more comparing one bag of apples to the next by weight, it’ll be by number of apples in the bag. Useless for recipes and comparison.

    Credit to El Reg (www.theregister.co.uk) for the thought.


    • Its going to be a mess, that’s what! It’s bad enough that a lot of recipes are in US measurements – cups being the obvious one, which metric countries (the UK included) has no way of measuring as we can’t buy the cup measury things (thank god for the internet and mail order)

      I’m glad I’m in Oz, at least we’re metric through and through. Except you can still get a pint in some places, although I suspect they are actually 1/2 litres and I just don’t notice 😉


  2. “I was chatting to Mike @ realdadshangout earlier about stuff and the age-old subject of measurement came up, him being from the US of A and me being Brit.
    I grew up in the UK to feet, miles, inches, yards, pints, gallons, pounds and stones. This is despite being born the year the system was supposed to have changed to metric. In theory I was supposed to have learned all about metres, centimetres, kilometres, litres, kilos, grams and centigrade.”

    Good read, but I am not quite sure what you mean by “the age old subject of measurement came up“? While that description might apply to Britain, America and Canada still stuck in medieval times metrology wise, it does not to metric nations. The overwhelming majority of countries solved this question some time ago by simply mandating the metric system and implementing it in a proper way. I know of no democracy that threw the government out because of mandated metrication. The most recent countries, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa are fully metricated and happy to have done so. Only a few oddballs would ever return to cumbersome old units.

    The reason why you and Americans have to deal with an idiotic and needlessly costly and at times dangerous measurement hybrid is that your politicians didn’t have the guts to mandate metrication. They put the onus of metricating Britain and to a lesser degree America on school children in the pious hope that their parents somehow learn from them and embrace that simple and honest system. It doesn’t work that way, as everybody including politicians, know.
    As to learning new dimensions, weights and temperature? That process is relatively easy and quick if old units are discontinued after a short transition time (cold turkey method ), but to progress swiftly as an individual one needs an open mind. The irony is that no country in this global village can function properly without metric units, so why waste precious time and resources on obsolete measurements?
    “I have no idea (visually) how big a centimetre is, but know an inch is the length of my thumb from to first knuckle“.
    A statement that makes little sense, I am sorry to say. You have learned mm/cm, so you know their approximate size. What’s wrong with using the width of your little, or whichever finger is closest to 10 mm as a guide if you need that crutch? Better still, use the width of your hand and call it 100 mm. If that doesn’t work for you think of the poor women in countries using medieval units. They have nothing that relates to inches ???and feet at all. Imperial has always been and still is misogynist, as well as sexist! For females metric is a blessing because their fingers are about 10 mm in width and their feet approximately 200 mm.
    Well, neither Britain nor America can afford to be outsiders for ever with Asia in the ascendancy. It will be China, for good, or bad that will influence what happens on this globe and if their disregard for imperial units in aviation is a guide, the world will fly in and use metric units only come their time. What a pity, but that is the way of the world and Americans sadly did their best to make their “reign” a very short one. By the way it’s always degree Celsius and never plural in km, kg, g.


    • Hey Eric, thanks for your comment! – btw – this was just supposed to be a little fun, not a serious justification of anything!

      It is an age old discussion for all the reasons you cite – how come in this day and age, 2 English speaking nations cannot easily communicate a unit of measure?! I deal a lot with the US, and it’s something that often comes up in conversation.

      I’m not defending the situation in the UK by the way, its nuts and you’re right – the UK should have gone totally metric when it switched over in 1971 and been done with it, but the British have always had a stubborn streak when it comes to having things foisted on them that they don’t like. It’s why they’ll never accept the Euro (and perhaps that *is* a good thing)

      As for the visual clues – I made a typo – it should have read

      “from the tip of my thumb to the first knuckle”

      Its just what my parents taught me and that’s what stuck. Having measured it just now, I now know that my index finger nail is pretty much 1cm from tip to quick and as you say, my little finger is about 1cm wide too, so that’s a new guide – but I go back to what I said – almost 40 years of not really using metric and having everything still mixed up – I’ve never needed to know what a centimetre is or really cared that much until recently.

      Now I live in Australia its all metric which is lots easier – but I’m still having to convert everything from my imprinted and muddled system (of centi-inches and pintalitres). After 2 years, I still have no idea how far a place is away in km, but instinctively know in miles. I’m not resisting the changes, its just taking a while to sink in.

      As far as imperial being a sexist measurement – can’t say know anything about that!

      I wouldn’t hold out on China being the salvation – they use a different calendaring system to the western world, that could get really confusing!

      Anyway, all in fun – now – can I buy you a pint?


  3. Enjoyed your reply. Let me start with the end of your post, I wholly agree that China won’t be anybody’s salvation, safe their own and even that is questionable with climate change? It was mainly in the context of metrology. Now to the rest. Simply put when it comes to measurements and probably a few other matters, Uncle Sam is a lousy global citizen and so is Britain. I am always amazed how easy it is for staunch democrats not to dictate to its people, but to the world. Yankeeland forced an already 70% metric world to fly in medieval units after 1945 to save itself the hassle of going metric. Not very democratic at all and a reminder that intelligence does not always match power.
    If Uncle Sam had its way the UN and ipso facto the world would use disjointed and cumbersome USC units today. Luckily sanity prevailed, the world refused to make that backward step.
    As to stubborn Brits, that reminds me of the abolition of capital punishment in the 50s when British hanging judges came up with all kinds of idiotic reasons why Britain should not follow Europe’s humane way. That streak seems to be mirrored in the metrication process. Sure one does not have to follow everything, but it does not hurt to let compassion, or intelligence come into its own when it is patently obvious that everybody benefits.
    You are a perfect example of most mis-metricated Brits and their country. You and Britain have for all the cost and effort wasted on metrication gained absolutely nothing. How does this rate on the scale of a nations intelligence?
    To work out the distance of a km is simple, it takes an average sized male about 15 minutes to walk it. That makes 4 km an hour, easy to remember.
    As to sexist imperial, some American nutters accuse metric of being sexist, an accusation that has unlike imperial (Kings thumb, girth, feet) no basis at all.
    While it sounds serious, it is not all that important in the scheme of things considering the dire state our planet is in, thanks to clever Homo “sapiens”. As to a pint, thank you, but I am not a beer drinker. Don’t feel obliged, where are you in Australia?


    • Like I said before – I’m not defending my impetric or metririal upbringing – it’s pretty daft, but it is what it is. There’s no way I can tell you what its like to move systems – you have to experience it yourself – if you haven’t had to change from one system of measurement that you’ve spent 40 years with to another one, then it would be hard to understand the position I am in. I know what a kilometre should be, its just not something I’ve lived with long enough to really *know* without having to think about it. I’ve walked, driven, cycled, even roller skated in miles for 40 years – I just *know* how far one is. A km is a bit less than a mile, but it’s still not instinctive. Like a holiday currency or a foreign language – there comes a time when you’re not translating, but it takes a while. I suggest going to the UK seeing it first hand – distances are in miles, economy is in mpg, but you buy fuel in litres – it’ll take you a while to get used to it!

      Oh, and I’m in Perth, which is 34 fathoms per fortnight from the nearest civilisation 😉


  4. Charlie,

    First off, Eric needs a tranquilizer.
    Second, how come there isn’t a comment from Mike aka realdadshangout.
    Thirds, I think its really hot that you are bimeasurable.


  5. I am sorry Charlie as this birthing thing my wife had going on kind of interfered with my life and my blog reading (damn kids do that as you know!). Anyway, I like feet because I have 2, I like inches because I have 2 of them as well! Catherine, aren’t I sounding more and more the catch?

    Seriously – the metric system is for communists and I am against it! I lift my pint to you my friend…imperial measurements and democracy all the way! WOOOOO HOOOO


  6. Yay Mike and of course you love the imperial measurements being the King and all.

    P.S. I would like it to be known from now on that I weigh 55 kilos.


  7. you guys are nuts!!

    Catherine – do you think we need to give Eric 30ml, or 14oz of tranq? 😉 (sorry Eric, we’re only messing with you 😉 )
    And hot, huh? (shhh, Jay will come and biff you!)
    Mike I know you’ve got a good excuse! 😉 See, I’d have more sympathy for imperial if it wasn’t so inconsistent – you never know how many things go to make up a bigger one – is it 12, 14, or 16? well, its all of them, depends if you’re in pounds, ounces or inches. Decimal makes like a whole load easier! I think you guys should go the whole way though and go back to using fathoms, furlongs, poles, perches, chains and rods

    As for weight, I prefer to measure myself in either cake or wine. I’m around 23.8 cakes (official chocolate statutory cake index) or 54 standard red wines. Hic.


  8. The lot of you is most welcome to have fun on my account:-)))As to needing a tranquilizer, no thank you, I rather get worked up about something and feel well and truly alive.
    Definitely a Communist plot, always has been, but one of the best they managed.
    Mike,if you want to improve your life you have to work on it, so far you come up with excuses only:-)))
    And who dares to spoil that beaut number of 55 kg. As a rough guide if he/she is taller than 1.55 m and depending on how much she/he is either in perfect shape, or malnourished.
    What is it with women and keeping their weight a secret? Dont you know that everybody sees you and can make up his/her mind whether you are overwight, perfect, or too skinny. Besides beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    Well I am in Canberra and old enough to have changed from imperial to metric, oh what an everlasting joy!


    • LOL – Eric – thanks for being a good sport 🙂

      Women (sweeping generalisation) keep everything secret – its a devious plan to keep us men on our toes 😉


  9. Dear Eric,

    If I was really worried about keeping my weight a secret, I probably wouldn’t post it (even in Kilos) on Cahrlie’s blog. My 55 kg is neither in top shape nor malnourished and I would guess that I am about 21.67 cupcakes tall.

    Ehem Charlie, don’t you think Mike and I are good sports too? Why does Eric get all the glory?


    • Dear Catherine, sorry about my carelessness, I did not connect the 55 kg with your weight. The reason I mentioned it was to show how beautiful the metric system works. The centimetres of your height after the metre should be approximately your body weight. Easy and helpful, isn’t it? What do sloppy feet tell you? Only your approximate height. Why sloppy, because inch using countries seem to breed for “genetic” reasons only people growing to rounded feet, inches and half inches like 5′, 5’6″, 6′, 6’2″. That sloppiness deprives height challenged people of vitally important ⅛ ¼ ½ ⅝ ¾ ⅞ and all other fractional inches. Give me m and cm any anytime.


      • Dear Eric,

        I love your measurement sensitivity and the way you think. I clicked on your name with the hope that you had your very own blog (perhaps about all things metric) because I was sure to become you newest fan. I need to know if you are a twitter – man because you are one guy I really want to follow. While I am not a math person, I am an artist and love measurement. Frankly, I love the way you bandy about fractions. From now on, I’m rounding up to the next foot since I am 5′ 5.25″ that kicks me up to 6′. Well perhaps I should start slow and round up to the next inch. So there I’ve said it, I am 5’6″ which as I have previously noted is equal to 21.67 cupcakes. Thanks for the fun exchange and tell us if you tweet.


  10. Wow I have been missing all if this! Eric – my life cannot be any better. I have 4 kids in a small apartment, live in a shit town, work 10-12 hours a day 60 miles/100km from home and I am piss poor. What is to improve there? It’s WONDERFUL! Ahem…

    Charlie please don’t throw fathoms and furlongs at me because my head would explode! I have only been on the Disney ride once and the submarine captain said something about being 20,000 leagues under the sea. Shit! That’s a different measurement! I know what a furlong is only once a year when I watch the big horse race. But I cheat and look up the distance on “The Google”.

    Catherine – I think you weigh the perfect amount of cupcakes. I was figuring I can get a muscle car with a 4.5L engine, grow a 70’s style mustache, hang my leg over your stadium seat and whisper sweet measurements in your ear while we hijack an Amish carriage! What do you say?


  11. Dear Catherine, what a quantum leap from tranquilizers to fan? Are you out to embarrass me,if so, you have succeeded! Sorry, no blog, no tweet nor twitter, does that make life really bitter? Seriously spoken, I would not call it measurement sensitivity, but obsession. Mind you, I do nurture a few others of those, like god, whom I am no friend of, or the royals to name but two. The last lot is about as outdated and costly as the measurements they use.
    If you are a handicapped math person, metric has to be your choice! Only few Brits and Yanks are able to work out how many square yards of carpet they need in a single room let alone a whole house. Those problems do not exist for average metric users.
    Looks like you are pretty ok weight wise? Being not a “sweet“ guy, I have no idea how to convert those cupcakes into physical attributes?


  12. Yes Eric I have converted to a fan.

    No Eric tweeting and blogging is of very little importance in the scheme of things.

    Maybe I’ll spend the rest of my day with the metric system. Do I need to do some calculations with the numbers on my phone when making calls today? Just wondering 😉


  13. Dear Catherine,
    are you that desperate to kill time? Surely as an artist you have plenty ideas to pursue and pin down one way, or another? So don’t waste your precious time on silly numbers:-))) I am sorry that being a fan of mine is such a disappointing experience? Hope you have a good day by any measure. eric


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