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Posted: 06 December 2013 01:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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English measurements are messy.

That’s a bit like saying “the English language is messy”. English [weights and] measures are part of a rich nexus of cultural and historical associations which goes back more than a thousand years*. Some of them are very practical, too. Consider this: when I was a young man, several decades ago, Segundo García, the groundsman of the Valparaiso Cricket Club, used to measure out a cricket pitch using an iron Gunter’s surveying chain, 22 yards long. His cricket pitches would have done credit to the M.C.C. If he’d been told to measure out a cricket pitch 20.1168 m long, he’d have laughed incredulously --- or more probably, have had a heart attack. So would just about any other groundsman, anywhere.

Who’s messy now?

* I recommend The Weights and Measures of England by R.D. Connor (HMSO, 1987) --- a work of great erudition, which is more fun to read than most novels.

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Posted: 06 December 2013 09:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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lionello - 06 December 2013 01:42 PM

English measurements are messy.

That’s a bit like saying “the English language is messy”. English [weights and] measures are part of a rich nexus of cultural and historical associations which goes back more than a thousand years*.

Didn’t mean to imply that I think messy measurements (or perhaps “measurements with seemingly arbitrary relationships to each other") are bad.  Indeed I like to think I would take to the barricades if the U.S. ever takes a serious stab at going metric.

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Posted: 06 December 2013 11:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Feet are base 12 and inches are divided into halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds, etc. IMHO these are uncommonly convenient for figuring stuff.

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Posted: 07 December 2013 12:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Geek saying.. “The best software to use is the one you know.” Same difference here. If you actually need to know a measuring system for anything more than entertainment purposes, you do.

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Posted: 07 December 2013 01:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Indeed I like to think I would take to the barricades if the U.S. ever takes a serious stab at going metric.

I think that for many years now, the US has gone about as far metric (or rather, as far SI) as it needs to. Happydog’s absolutely right.

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Posted: 07 December 2013 02:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Aye, the military, engineering and scientific communities in the US have largely moved to SI.
Plenty of goods, e.g. beverages, are sold by litres or millilitres. I doubt anyone would throw a fit if more of that happened so that grams gradually replaced ounces etc.
I think the real tipping point would be replacement of miles with kilometres (or, rather, kilometers) on signage and on speedometers etc.

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Posted: 07 December 2013 04:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Many cars sold in the US these days have both mph and kph available on the speedometers, as dually labeled analog speedometers or switchable digital speedometers.  My own car has a digital speedometer and I accidentally switched it to kph while driving in the city.  I hadn’t known the choice was there and got all confused for a bit.  I suppose it would have been too much to expect the gas mileage readout to switch to liters per 100 km at the same time.

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Posted: 07 December 2013 05:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Here in Canada, while officially metric, the English units are still in informal use. People will speak of long distances in kilometers, but short ones are invariably given in yards, feet, and inches. While most liquids are sold in liters, you still order pints of beer. Food is purchased in grams and kilos, but when I told the guy in the pet shop that my dog weighed 20 kilos he looked confused and asked me what that was in pounds.

The unit that I’m having trouble coming to terms with is degrees Celsius. After three and a half years, I have yet to develop an intuitive sense of how hot it is when I see the temperature given. I have to do the mathematical calculation in my head. This is one unit that Canadians have adopted wholeheartedly. No one speaks in Fahrenheit, and most people I’ve met here are as confused by it as I am be Celsius.

I’m not sure if the persistence of the old units in informal use is a cultural relic, continued influence from the States, or a combination thereof.

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Posted: 07 December 2013 06:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Australia made the switch before i went to school so I never had to make any adaption or conversion.

I think the only relic of the old measures that is at all common is the use of feet and inches to express a person’s height. Centimetres are also common for this purpose, especially in formal or technical contexts, but it would not be thought odd to say someone is six foot one.

Just for human height, mind. Your Christmas tree is 1.9 metres tall, your ceiling is 2.5 metres high, your couch is 170 centimetres long, but your neighbour is six foot one.

Of course, the old units are in regular use in such expressions as “miles away” meaning far away, “six foot under” etc etc. (The Imperials do have the advantage of having shorter names, mostly.) An old person might lightheartedly be described as being “90 in the shade”, which is a reference to Fahrenheit.

A jocular expression for Imperial units is “the old money”, perhaps because Australia metricated at about the same time that decimal currency replaced pounds, shillings and pence. e.g. “She’s only 153 cm, that’s about five foot in the old money.”

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Posted: 07 December 2013 08:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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Do the Brits still use “Stone” for weight? And does it refer to more than human beings? Even the scales in England used stone, which seemed damned imprecise. I weighed 14 stone when last in England.

[ Edited: 07 December 2013 01:02 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 07 December 2013 09:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Feet are base 12 and inches are divided into halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds, etc. IMHO these are uncommonly convenient for figuring stuff.

lots of people would agree with you, including the Sumerians and H.G.Wells. In Wells’s novel “The Sleeper Awakes”, the protagonist (after sleeping for 203 years) wakes into a world which has adopted duodecimal numeration entirely.

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12163

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Posted: 07 December 2013 04:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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IMHO these are uncommonly convenient for figuring stuff.
----

(shrugs)

I would bet a barleycorn to a bushel that I can convert centimetres to kilometres faster than you can convert inches to miles…

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Posted: 07 December 2013 05:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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I would bet a barleycorn to a bushel that I can convert centimetres to kilometres faster than you can convert inches to miles…

Hands down and without a doubt, but how many barleycorns per bushel?

It just feels better to divide a piece of plywood by inches and feet, somehow. No question that base 10 is better for mathematics. It would be a weird and strangely Heinleinesque alternate Planet Earth if we didn’t have the decimal system and we had to get really small numbers by dividing repeatedly by 2.

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Posted: 07 December 2013 06:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Iron Pyrite - 07 December 2013 05:59 PM

I would bet a barleycorn to a bushel that I can convert centimetres to kilometres faster than you can convert inches to miles…

Hands down and without a doubt, but how many barleycorns per bushel?

It just feels better to divide a piece of plywood by inches and feet, somehow. No question that base 10 is better for mathematics. It would be a weird and strangely Heinleinesque alternate Planet Earth if we didn’t have the decimal system and we had to get really small numbers by dividing repeatedly by 2.

This would be a more pertinent consideration if the Imperial units DID uniformly work by powers of two, but it doesn’t, by a country mile.

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Posted: 08 December 2013 04:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Iron Pyrite - 07 December 2013 05:59 PM

It just feels better to divide a piece of plywood by inches and feet, somehow.

Only because that’s what you’re used to.  Back in the ‘70s I spent some time in a semi-commune living arrangement and we did some hack carpentry, measuring everything in metric.  We had no problems with the way it felt.

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