Britain’s move to metrics upset some people so much they formed the Imperial Measures Preservation Society. They still drive in miles but seem to have adjsuted to other metric measures. The USA, however, still refuses to make the change.
I can’t understand why a country which has had decimal currency for centuries can’t contemplate ditching the complicated system of imperial measurements in favour of the relative simplicity of metrics.
July 10 1967, the day on which decimal currency was introduced is a date still fixed in my mind. This was partly due to the success of the advertising campaign which preceded it but mostly a reflection on the great relief with which I was able to close the door on old money.
I was 10 at the time and had already spent too long struggling over arithmetic lessons (we didn’t do maths back then) in which we were called on to do convoluted sums with pounds, shillings and pence to have any regrets about the change.
I can’t recall when weights and measures went metric but I shed no tears when grams, metres and litres replaced ounces, yards and pints.
I was never sure if it was 16 ounces in a pound and 14 pounds to the stone or the other way round and I was even more uncertain about the number of pints in a gallon. I generally got the figures relating to inches in feet and feet in yards right but struggled with conversions to miles or acres and computations concerning any of them were a nightmare.
When even one as mathematically challenged as I am can understand the logic of a system based on 10, those wishing to retain imperial measures haven’t a leg to stand on numerically speaking. However, I have some sympathy with them on linguistic grounds because even though we’ve been metric for years a miss is still as good as a mile but it will never be as good as a kilometre.
If I look after the cents the dollars may look after themselves but I still like to have my tuppence worth and while I might be in for a penny in for a pound, the decimal equivalent doesn’t trip off my tongue so lightly.
It’s not only expressions like these which don’t convert easily to modern measures. It is generally simple to calculate with metrics but it isn’t so easy to converse in them. I can follow recipes in metric or imperial measures but I still refer to a pound of butter rather than 500 grams and if I could still get a bottle of milk I’d call it a pint not 600 mls.
If you told me the day’s temperature in Fahrenheit I wouldn’t be sure whether to reach for my long johns or the sunscreen. If you asked me how to bake biscuits I’d probably suggest 350 degrees although I can bake with imperial and metric recipes.
Too many sorry mornings on the bathroom scales have enabled me to recognise my own weight in both stones and kilos but I’m not sure how big babies are unless they are weighed in pounds.
I can understand the area of a farm in hectares but still talk about a thousand acre voice or stride. Similarly, while I might not be able to do anything worthwhile with a piece of four by two and a length of number eight wire they are still a lot more useful figuratively speaking than their metric equivalents.
So when I gauge myself against a linguistic yardstick I’m only slightly ahead of the imperial luddites. I might have the measure of metrics but I’m not prepared to go the extra kilometre by conversing in them.