Unitary Authority

I’ve had this one simmering for a while, so instead of finishing that post that’s been in drafts for ten months, I’ll write this.

I started recently to see a bit of a resurgence of the statement that “we should return to and/or keep imperial measurements because they mean more to people and make more sense”. This is probably due to me following @AnAcreofpints, a twitter account that is

Making the case for keeping customary units like pints, pounds and miles.

Then of course, the Americans chip in, and I see lots of horseshit claiming that degrees Farenheit make more sense than degrees C “because 100 F is about as hot as 0 F is cold” and “a foot is about the length of your foot” and other such crap.

Then there’s the “well, how would you describe someone’s height? In feet and inches, or metres?”.

I thought that was interesting. I grew up in the 70s and 80s: I’m currently in my late forties. I will:

1. Expect draught beer to come in pints (or thirds/halves thereof) in the UK or Ireland.
2. Probably ask for a pound (or quarter/half thereof) of foodstuff at a butchers/greengrocers/sweet shop etc
3. State estimated weight of a person in stones and pounds
4. State estimated height of a person in feet and inches
5. State long road distances in miles
6. State shorter road distances in meteres or yards
7. Measure (eg: within a room) distances in metres/millimeters
8. State temperatures in Celsius
9. Use a recipe in pounds/ounces
10. Weigh a parcel in grams or kg
11. Have a feel for the weight of something large (eg: a car in kg or tonnes (i.e: metric tonnes)
12. Estimate very short distances in mm, ones a bit longer in inches
13. Fuel consumption is in MPG.

I can also, for approximations, freely switch between units. Metres and yards are neither here nor there for road distances of a hundred or two; the conversion difference is neither here nor there. A pint is a bit more than half a litre, a pound is just under 500g. Unless you’re needing any level of precision, the error doesn’t count. Some countries have the concept of a “metric pound” which is 500g.

So what?

My point here is that it’s largely familiarity here. I’m mixing and matching as I see fit, and I think here’s the key: units are a measurement, nothing else. They’re not a expression of Britishness (“I voted Brexit so I can buy potatoes in pounds again”), a political statement, or a way of sticking it to the Eurepeans, and largely, it’s a comfort and familiarity thing, like Windows vs Mac vs Linux, Apple IOS vs Android or Vi vs Emacs. I have this eclectic mix of units because I grew up during a time of change: my Mom taught me to cook, and she’s 30 years older than me, so that was pounds and ounces- many people older will have a much larger swing towards imperial units because they’re familiar with it, it’s not because it’s inherently easier, it just seems so to them. (though how anyone can claim imperial units, with non-decimal subdivisions is easy, is totally beyond me, similarly Guineas and £ S d– I meant, just why would you do that, 240 pennies to a pound?).

Coming back to precision, engineering and science uses metric units. The maths leaves less room for error, when you’re below whole units- something that engineering decided for itself before metrication with “thou”, a metric fraction of an imperial unit…

2 Responses to “Unitary Authority”

  1. species5618 Says:

    on the subject of mix and match,
    when doing DIY, i often switch between cm/mm and ft/inches dependong which which marker on the tape measure was closest to my required measurement

  2. Willenhall Lad Says:

    One of my gripes with mixed measurement systems is stuff for houses i.e. Window Blinds etc.

    A lot of houses in the UK are still Imperial and trying to find fittings that work in metric is a nightmare as they often don’t match and you end up hacking the damn things.

    Not that houses are built precisely of course…..

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