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If you are comfortable with miles, feet and inches, tons, pounds and ounces, gallons
and quarts, that is enough, you do not have to justify yourself. You use it. You like it.
You want to keep it. But make your opinion known. Metricators are trying to get rid of our
way of measuring.
Where a metric unit exists along with a standard American equivalent, neither one nor the other is more accurate. In 1959, all countries using traditional units such as inches, feet, miles etc. decided that an inch would be defined as 25.4 mm exactly (or 1 cm = 1/2.54 inch). Other traditional units were similarly defined (1 pound = 453.59237 g - or 1 kg = 1/0.45359237 pounds exactly). This means that American units are as standardized and as accurate as any metric unit.
As evidence of this, consider the fact that man was put on the Moon, a task requiring
almost unimaginable accuracy and precision, using American units. If you
think that that is out of date ... the Space Shuttle Program runs with American units ...
as does every Boeing aircraft coming off the assembly line today.
Metricators will sometimes say that decimals are more accurate than fractions. There are a couple of responses to this. One is "So?". If instead of saying half an inch someone wants to say 0.5 inches, fine, let them. Or if someone wants to write a figure down as 0.341 ounces, they are free do so. Decimals and fractions are not mutually exclusive, they are both useful and available for use. There are cases where one is better than the other. If something is 0.197 inches long, many may prefer to write 0.197 than 197/1000. Conversely, many may prefer to write (or say) 1/3 (one third) of an inch (or centimeter!) than 0.3333333... . The use of both fractions and decimals is appropriate to either system. Except for two facts...
Given the base ten myth (see next paragraph) the metric system does not enjoy some
magical advantage when compared to the American system. The American system is
decimal friendly. On the other hand, the fact that 12 and 16 can be more easily divided
into convenient fractions also means that the American system is more
fraction friendly than the metric system ... read on ...
The fact that metric units are base ten in fact has virtually no relevance either to day-to-day life or to scientific and engineering manipulation. This is because conversion between units of the same dimension (e.g. centimeters to kilometers) is rarely necessary or useful. Just consider practical experience. If you are working in a unit, say miles or kilometers, you stay with that unit. So if a distance is 121.5 miles you do not also think that it is 213,400 yards any more than you think that 121.25 kilometers is also 121,250 meters.
Also, if you must travel 294 miles from one town to another and then 35 miles onwards to a third town, the calculation 294 miles + 35 miles = 329 miles is just as simple as would be, 294 kilometers + 35 kilometers = 329 kilometers. The fact that the metric system uses base 10 for inter-unit conversions does not make the calculation any simpler or more accurate.
Even so, if you want to convert between units, we today can do it much more easily than our ancestors because of technology. If American measurements are so complicated how did our parents and grandparents and their ancestors survive when they did not even have calculators? Now, we have far more powerful technical mathematical tools than previous generations had - calculators, computers etc. Interestingly, none of these machines use base 10.
Without getting too technical, the reason that these tools are non-decimal is because base 10 is a poor system of calculation. This is because it can be divided by relative few other numbers ... 1,2,5 and 10 ... without yielding a fractional/decimal result. Half of ten is 5. Beyond that it gets messy. Half of 5 is 2.5. Half of 2.5 is 1.25 and so on. 12 is better. It can be divided neatly by 1,2,3,4,6 and 12. And dividing by 2 gives us 6 and then 3. 16, found in our weight and volume units, is even better - with factors 1,2,4,8 and 16. Dividing by 2 gives us 8,4,2,1 etc.
This points to advantages of manipulation in many American units because when we work with amounts we often manipulate in terms of halves, quarters and even thirds. To be sure of being objective, think of situations free of American or metric units. Sharing out a cake. Dividing up a document so that it fits on a diskette. Folding a piece of paper. More often than not divisions with which we are comfortable, halves, thirds, quarters come into play. Divisions out of which our customary system of measurement has grown. Half a foot is 6 inches, a quarter is 3 inches a third is 4 inches. Half a meter is 50 centimeters, a quarter is 25 centimeters and a third is 33.3333.... centimeters. Take your pick.
There is a simple piece of empirical evidence that points to the fact that the entire
world can handle units that are not in base ten ... Time. Nowhere are there 100 seconds in
a minute, 100 minutes in an hour and 10 hours in a day etc. And yet the world manages to
tell time and to calculate time-related problems.
Temperature is a particularly interesting case. This is because we do not convert
between different scales of units of temperature (i.e. we do not speak in millidegrees or
Petadegrees etc.). Thus, base ten enters the Centigrade/Celsius system only in that there
are 10 times 10 degrees between the freezing and boiling point of water. This is an
utterly arbitrary way of fixing the size of a degree. In fact, under SI (Système
International), water freezes at 273.16 K (Kelvin). Furthermore, since the size of a
degree Fahrenheit is smaller than that of a degree Centigrade, when describing the
temperature around us Fahrenheit is more accurate!
Another factor is that our customary units are simply more human because they were developed in reference to the scale of the human body. An excellent example of this is length where a foot and an inch are directly derived from lengths found on our own bodies. To see how we scale the world, take a look on your desk. Most of the items will be on the scale of inches to a foot. Centimeters -- an arbitrarily-defined unit -- are too small, meters are too big, and millimeters are far too small. The accepted standard international system is SI, Système International (see below), in which centimeters are not used, but instead meters or millimeters take their place. But because the centimeter is nearer the convenient and comfortable scale of an inch, it lives on.
This does not mean that meters or centimeters are bad but simply demonstrates the advantages of our customary units. Indeed, advantages are implicitly acknowledged by the fact that we are talking about the metric system. If there were real, rather than imagined, advantages to the metric system there would be no discussion.
Consider Canada. A supposedly metric country (more on this below). In a country of so much wood and wooden buildings, carpentry plays a vital role. In engineering drawings dimensions are given in millimeters (not centimeters which are considered non-standard). Almost without exception, carpenters, including those who have had an entirely metric education, say that the fact that the millimeter is so small means that they are constantly working with very large numbers that are hard to manipulate and hard to visualize. (Remember the fact that the metric system uses base 10 is virtually irrelevant since most calculations are not conversions between units but simply calculations like 1234 mm + 2437 mm or 0.2 × 4351 mm). What do these carpenters do? They ask the draftsmen to supply copies of all drawings in "Imperial", i.e. inches and feet. Easy to visualize, easy to work with. [Go to the main Metrication page and select "Metric-land" and "Trouble with the metric system" from the table of contents for some real-life experiences on just this very important point.]
Our units have different names for different scales -- for example we say six
feet, two inches and two pounds, four ounces. This reflects the fact that the human brain
is better able to manipulate figures that are of a manageable
scale. The metric equivalents, 198 centimeters and 1002 grams (or 1.02 kilograms)
are numbers that are more difficult to visualize. (Under the metric system, you do not say
1 meter and 98 centimeters or 1 kilogram and 2 grams.)
We have had plenty of time to choose the units we want for different applications. We
have adapted them to the way our minds work. Metric units, which are imposed,
often have a conceptually different basis. Take the grain from farms for an example. We
measure this in bushels. A bushel is a unit of capacity. Our unit is based on the amount
of space that the grain occupies. However, in metricated countries, the unit is the
kilogram a unit of mass, not weight. Conceptually, and abstractly, in the
grain example, this refers to the amount of matter that makes up the grain. Perhaps you
thought that a kilogram measured weight? No. The unit of weight in the metric system is
the Newton (or sometimes, the dyne). Like I said, the concepts in the metric system are
different. Very often they are less practical because the units did not evolve out
of human experience.
The naming system of the metric system is systematic but repetitive. Humans find words that are distinct easier to store. The metric system does not lend itself to this. In fact, the reason that non-standard names have evolved for metric units is to increase the contrast and thus memorability of different units. For example, kilogram and kilometer are often referred to as kilo and click respectively. The fact that the names for metric units are unremarkable and confusing is simply because they were artificially created; they did not evolve over time from human experience.
In many cases, the abstractness of the names means that any feel of what they
actually mean is lost. For example, under the metric system, the unit of pressure is the
Pascal. The traditional unit is pound per square inch. Clearly, the traditional unit is
clearer to visualize and is more practical.
Traditional recipes use units such as cups, tablespoons and teaspoons. These units are
readily visualized and are based on utensils in our homes. Metric recipes use milliliters
and grams. Unfortunately for cooks, these are abstract concepts invented
by scientists that are impractical in the kitchen. Let's keep our recipes understandable
The metric system has been almost wholly created and standardized by male scientists
and bureaucrats. At the time, during which women were considerably less liberated than
today, woman had virtually no say in the creation and, in many countries, the imposition
of these units. Perhaps if they had, the value of the practical units used in those tasks
undertaken by woman at the time would have been recognized.
These past few points underscore the fact that American units are easier to visualize
and that they are more practical in everyday use by everyday people.
Strictly speaking, the international bureaucrats who try to impose measurements on people, do not promote the metric system but the Système International (or "SI"). The difference is that SI excludes many metric units. For example, centimeters are not part of SI. For the measurement of distance, millimeters are ok, meters too, also kilometers but, not centimeters. The reason centimeters live on is because they are the nearest in size to a convenient length. (No surprise that the inch, which evolved directly from human needs, is a similarly sized unit.)
Despite the best efforts of the metric bureaucrats, human nature is not entirely
suppressible and the International Committee for Weights and Measures, whose toy is the
Système Internationale, is constantly revising units. At the same time
different countries using metric units show preferences for different, often non-SI units.
For example in France, agricultural production is often measure not in kilograms, or grams
but in "qx" - metric quintals! This means, our traditional units,
standardized by international agreement in 1959, are more stable than metric units.
It is often said that the rest of the world uses the metric system so the U.S. must also.
First, taking this point at face value, the following question should be asked: Why? The value of our cultural heritage is vastly more valuable than say putting up signs with bridge heights in meters instead of feet because others do so.
This example comes from some French friends of mine who recently got back from England and told me that they had been disappointed on a recent walk around London to find that various metric direction signs are appearing (including the sign to the restrooms). They said that when they visit England they go for the differences not the similarities with France. They said that they could not understand why the British would lose part of their heritage and way of looking at the world by steamrollering away feet, miles, yards, gallons, pints, etc! And they added that if England loses much more of its Englishness, they will not bother going back.
The advantages of our American units is put forward in detail on this site. However,
the most fundamental reasons why metrication of the USA (and the UK for that matter)
should be stopped in its tracks is because it is an unnecessary destruction of part of our
culture and heritage. Moreover, and as the USA is a democracy this point is not
unimportant, the vast majority of Americans prefer our American measurements.
To unnecessarily change a fundamental aspect of our culture against popular opinion is
It is often said that the United States is the only major country using this system.
This is, however, false. Not only are there other countries that still mostly use their
traditional units (e.g. United Kingdom - despite propaganda that claims it went metric in
1972), but traditional units live on throughout the World. For example, France, the source
of the metric system, uses pouces (inches) for tires In Ecuador, gallons are measured in
gallones. In China, distances are often measured in li. And in countries where the
Government has attempted to steamroller away traditional units, they live on. Take Canada
for example, apartments are measured in square feet, lots in acres, fruit is weighed in
pounds, carpentry is done in inches, etc.
Some claim that Napoleon deliberately and happily carried the metric system to those parts of Europe that he conquered. In fact, his own feelings on the system were less than complimentary:
The French people in fact did not readily take to the metric system. They only
seriously began using it when forced by legislation in the 1840s. Even
today certain non-metric units survive in specific applications.
It is unacceptable that the way we measure, which is fundamental to how we see the world, to our culture, and to ourselves, is being attacked without any recourse to the democratic process. It is wrong that there is no public debate, no vote on whether the people want change. If the American people are asked, and a majority say they want the metric system, even though I do not like it, I will have to go with the democratic decision.
But, who ever asked the American people if they want to have part of their culture
erased by metric-Marxists?
Popular opinion in the UK is against the metric system, even amongst the young who have
had an entirely metric education. This has meant that the UK (and also Ireland) has
shown considerable resistance to going metric, something that the
European Commission (an unelected, unaccountable bureaucratic body) is pressuring them to
do. The European bureaucrats do not appreciate this show of individuality and of disregard
for their projects. Thus, the European Union has created a "Directive" that
makes it a criminal offense in the UK and Ireland to use traditional units. However, the
use of these units is not a criminal offence in any other member of the European Union.
The European Union (EU) is often criticized as being a poor representative of European peoples in that the majority of decisions are taken and enforced by unelected bureaucrats and appointees. Incredibly, this same organisation is trying to force metrication on the United States!
The European Union is putting pressure on the U.S. to metricate to improve their export edge. We must say no to this metrication without representation. Maybe we should tell them to adopt American units, after all the U.S. economy, per capita, is bigger than the EU's and the U.S. has a greater role in world trade and politics! The paragraph below is taken from a European Parliament report by the German Social Democrat Erika Mann. (The report - and the paragraph - will most likely be adopted).
You can write Erika Mann and tell her what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(This extract was kindly supplied by David Delaney.
The metric system has spread through the lobbying and implementation efforts of bureaucrats, technocrats and other individuals and bodies not representative of the majority of the population such as AASHTO and the US Metric Association (e-mail them and tell them what you think! AASHTO: email@example.com; US Metric Assoc.: Don Hillger, Ph.D. ).
Unless we act now to defend our civil liberties, this bureaucratic, unrepresentative machine will remove our freedom to use our own system of weights and measures in our own country. We must act together to stop bureaucrats from treating us in a way that demonstrates their contempt for what we find convenient, what we prefer and of our traditions and heritage.
You will find engineers and scientists who promote the metric system (though I am one
and I don't!). If a given engineer or scientist wants to work in metric units, fine, that
is his prerogative. But they should not impose the metric system and obliterate our way of
measuring against the democratic will of the majority of the people.
Metric system pushers, the metric-Marxists, sometimes say that there is no democratic deficit because metrication is embodied in legislation that has been passed by elected officials. Unfortunately, elected officials do not always reflect the will of the majority of voters. This is because of their susceptibility to lobbying. The pro-metric lobby is organized and targeted. The majority of Americans who are pro-American standard units are most often silent and unorganized.
This is, of course, a key reason for the existence of Freedom2Measure - to provide a
focal point for the majority of people who do not welcome metrication and to provide
advice to these people on where to express their opinion. By lobbying the government, the
voice of the majority can be heard and expressed in legislation. Legislators have to be
put under the pressure of public opinion.
Companies that are downgrading and dropping American units from their publications and packaging are in the vanguard of companies destroying part of our heritage and part of our way of life. They are promoting not only the steamrollering of part of our heritage but also the "harmonizing" away of the wonderful differences between the cultures of our world.
You may be told that Congress has passed laws promoting the metric system. Unfortunately this is true (although the most recent block of legislation was passed by many legislators who did not realize what they were doing). This trend must be stopped. Write to your congressman directly. Also write to companies. Companies listen to consumers for commercial reasons. If they realize that a law is making their customers unhappy, they will lobby against that law.
A couple of corporate candidates for letters are Pepsi and Coca Cola. These two
companies have begun packaging many of their products in metric sizes (e.g. 2 liter
bottles). They are dropping packaging sized with American units. For the moment, American
standard units are still mentioned on the bottles, but they are no longer the principal
units. Soon, unless we act now, they will disappear.
There is a growing tendency in the press, particularly in the international editions of publications such as Time, Newsweek and the International Herald Tribune to drop American units completely or, place them in a secondary position in brackets. More and more often they are simply dropped totally. Placed in brackets, American units are harder to read. If a U.S. publication wishes to reach an international audience, including readers who use metric units, the publication should always print both sets of units, separated by a slash, for example 30 miles/48 km.
Since the readership of most international U.S. publications is mostly made up of American business people, American units should come first. (In survey after survey, clear majorities of all age groups in the U.S. are more comfortable with American units.)
The cost of the extra drops of ink would be worth it to ensure that the majority of
readers remain comfortable with the units they read and that many of them are not
arrogantly cut off from understanding the measurements used in articles because they think
in American units. These comments, also cover tables and maps.
It is unnecessary and inappropriate to cut words stemming from American units from our
language. In publications that have been moving away from American units, more and more
expressions such as "miles away", "inch-by-inch", "to inch",
"mileage" etc. are dropped. These words have meanings that have moved beyond the
units on which they are based. That they are dropped is a reflection of the obsessiveness
of the metric-Marxists.
State highway departments are under pressure switch to metric measurements. It is critical to let them know that American units are to remain. We do not want to lose feet, miles, mph, etc. Beware, the Federal Highway Administration intends to make metrication of all our highways mandatory from 09/30/2000. Did they ask you? Let them know that you want to keep our units.
Metric propaganda would have you believe that Canada is 100% metric and dropped miles, feet, inches etc. no problem. However, even in Canada, officially metric since the mid-1970's, wherever the government has not forced Canada's traditional units (i.e. "Imperial" units) away (as from gas stations, most road signs, much - but not all - packaging in stores and weather forecasts) they continue to exist.
In Canada, lots (of land) are measured in acres and feet, living spaces in square feet, people discuss their weights in pounds and their heights in feet and inches, loose fruit and vegetables are sold in pounds (use of traditional units by retailers was officially sanctioned by a law passed in 1985 which softened slightly the controversial metric legislation introduced a decade earlier), carpentry is in inches and drinks sold in stores and restaurants by the cup and glass are often in fluid ounces.
Certain producers keep packaging in Imperial sizes (e.g. some butter blocks are sold in
pounds, many crates in bushels). Apples are sized in inches. Even many packages that are
only sized in metric are exact multiples of ounces. Ask someone in the street how far it
is to the bus stop and more often than not they will say "100 feet". Thus, even
in a supposedly metric country, most people are more comfortable with
traditional units for any application where the government did not steamroller them. Oh,
and in Canada there was no recourse to the democratic process. Metrication was
imposed. At the time that the metric system was compulsorily forced on Canadians,
even engineers were opposed.
The American (and British) system of measurement was derived from the ancient Greeks and Romans. The metric system is the standard measurement system in most other countries. However, traditional measurements exist in other countries. Certain U.S. bureaucrats have made some attempts to force the metric system into our society, but the vast majority of Americans prefer inches, pounds and gallons, rather than centimeters, grams, and milliliters.
Our system of measures is sometimes referred to as the English system of measurement. In fact, this is a misleading term not the least because there are significant differences between the American and English systems. In fact, if we are going to start labeling a system by who else used variations of it, maybe ours should be called the Roman system! We have taken our inheritance and made it ours just like with law (which is based on the system inherited during Colonial times).
The ancient systems used body measurements for linear measurements. Weight units were determined by how much a human or animal could carry. In ancient Egypt, about 3000 BC, the cubit was defined. It was calculated from the length from the extended fingertips to the tip of the elbow and was used as a standard of linear measurements. In the first millennium BC the Greek unit of measurement for length was the width of a finger, 16 fingers equaled one foot. Also at that time the Romans divided the foot into 12 unicae. Unicae means twelfth part and is the origin of the word inch.
The Roman system used the libra, or pound, as its unit of weight and the mile as its unit of distance. Liquid weight was based on the pint and dry measure on the quart. That a "pound" is abbreviated to "lb" today reflects its origins ("lb" is a contraction of the word "libra"). Much more recently, in 1830, the U.S. Senate ordered an inspection in the customhouses and uncovered quite a variety of "standard" pounds. In the following years, a new standard pound was dispatched to the customhouses and to the governor of each state and adopted in 1828 as the official Mint reference. In 1959, all countries sharing traditional units adopt a standard pound (see below). (There was actually very little change required.)
The first attempts to standardize the measures in England can be traced to the Magna Carta (1215). At about this time, the "Iron Yard of our Lord the King" was prescribed, subdivided into 3 feet, each 12 inches long. Our yard itself is descended from the derivation of a unit of length based on the human arm.
Sets of standards for length and weight, generally in bronze, were sent from the capital - Winchester originally - to the main cities. In 1496, discrepancies had crept in and, following a Parliamentary inquiry, new standards were made. The same happened again in 1588, under Elizabeth I, and again in 1758. The last one, the Imperial Standard Yard in bronze was manufactured in 1845 after the previous standard had been destroyed in the fire that burned down the House of Parliament in 1834. Copies of this yard were sent to the US.
In England, the mile - derived from the Roman "mille passus" or 1000 double steps - was originally 5000 feet long as in the Roman definition (1 "passus" = 5 feet). Later, it was stretched to 5280 feet to accommodate exactly 8 furlongs, the most popular measure of the time. Furlong comes from the Greek and Roman stadion, which they themselves inherited from even more ancient times. It seems to be the optimal length for the traditional plough. The 1 mile = 5280 feet definition was voted in England by Parliament in 1595.
An early definition of an acre was defined by how much land an oxen could plow in a day.
In the U.S., in 1830 formal standardization began under the auspices of the Office of Standard Weights and Measures. In 1959, all countries sharing traditional units such as inches, feet, miles etc. decided that an inch would be defined as 25.4 mm exactly (or 1 cm = 1/2.54 inch). This is why an inch is the same length worldwide. Other traditional units were similar defined (1 pound = 453.59237 g - or 1 kg = 1/0.45359237 pounds exactly). This means that they are as standardized and as accurate as any metric unit. Indeed, they could even be considered as "non-decimal" metric units!
The definitions of these units are every bit as accurate as definitions of metric units. Indeed, this high level of standardization and definition of the units not only means that they continue to be used but, that we were able to get man to set foot on the Moon. Indeed, in metricated countries like Canada, the traditional system is still used wherever government bureaucrats have not been able to force it away because it has wide acceptance, is accurate, and the people are comfortable with it.
The United States legalized the metric system in 1857 (and in 1897, the UK). Those
industries choosing to go metric have done so (and any others wishing to
do so in the future may). Clearly, the general public and many professions did not want to
and will only be forced to do so by bureaucrats and under legal threats. However, despite
the obvious choice of most industries and the vast majority of people to stay with
American units, in 1975, the United States Congress passed the Metric Conversion Act to
begin a process of "voluntary change". A law calling for voluntary change
is a curious thing since laws are meant to be followed. Since then, bureaucrats and
government have continued the push toward getting rid of American units. The people have never
been asked for their opinion.
There are three basic parts to the American measurement system. These three are length, weight, and liquid capacity.
The standard measures of length, their abbreviations, and their equivalents are:
For Nautical Depth
Volume and Capacity
The U.S. and Imperial gallons have the same origin. However, the U.S. retained a gallon that dated from an older definition than that defined by the UK.
In the U.S., the gallon is differently defined for dry and for liquid measures. In the UK, the gallon is the same.
The UK system differs from the American system for volumes. In fact, the American system remains true to binary measurements, i.e. based on 2:4:8:16:32 since 1 quart=32 fluid ounces. Under the UK system, however, 1 quart=40 fluid ounces.
Again the UK system drifts from the 2:4:8:16:32 relationships. Weights of people are
often measure in stone, 1 stone = 14 pounds. Also, although the U.S. or "short"
ton is recognized in the UK, the preferred traditional ton is the "long" ton
which = 2240 pounds.
As for me, I am 35 year-old engineer who has lived in various countries around the World. Unsurprisingly, I am fully capable of working with the metric system. In fact, I am probably more at home with a wider variety of metric units than most people who have used the metric system since birth. I am not against voluntary use of the metric system. I accept that in certain scientific and engineering realms it is widely used. However, I am not comfortable with it, least of all in my day-to-day life.
The metric system is not part of my heritage.
7 Oct 1999