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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Measure Me This

Long, long ago, when large reptiles ruled the Earth and the nightlife was dull, dull, dull, the U.S. flirted with the Metric System.

The elementary schools were abuzz with it. No more inches or feet. No more how-many-pints-to-a-quart or how many fluid hectares to a tablespoon. No. We would join the rest of the civilized world in the supremely civil world of the Metric System, where life would be measured by 10s and 100s and all kinds of other numbers ending in zero. We would, at last, have a common language.

And so, at the insistence of my parents and an un-wielding school system, I attended school – in Brainerd, Minnesota, yet! Home of Bus Brawls and Dirt-Road Trailer Courts – and endeavored to learn the Metric System.

And I did. I learned the Metric System (seems like that should be capitalized, doesn’t it? Like Brotherhood of Man or Emergency Exit). I believe I did quite well at it, too, capably computing how many pounds to a kilogram (2.2 and a smidge more) and how many centimeters to a meter (seven). I may be a little off there – it’s been a while since the fourth grade! – but no matter, as it's all come to naught anyway…

Whatever happened to our Metric System?

Here we are, how many years later, and the U.S. is no closer to the Metric System than we ever were. Outside of telling you how much Diet Coke is in a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke (two liters), I no longer even know what a centimeter looks like or whether or not it has more legs than a millimeter… Speaking of which, I had one of those in my basement the other day. Ack! Not a fan of insects.

You know, if we’d just kept at it, we’d all be used to it by now and we wouldn’t look like maroons when people from other countries say things like “Oh, it’s about 75 kilometers from here” or “He’s over two meters tall”. We’re thinking, so how far away is that in real life? And isn’t two meters really short? I defy you to find a typical U.S. citizen who has a concept of either of those measurements.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

And in the meantime, I’ll take a pint, please.


mbuna53 said...

The metric system is alive and well in science. I use it every day in my biology labs.

It is 2.2 pounds per kilogram by the way, and millipeds (Class Diplopoda) and centipeds (Class Chilopoda) are not insects (Class Insecta), but they are all Arthropods (Phylum Arthropoda).


Kavi said...

That was insightful ! Well, looks like we have company !

for instance, the concept of 'millions' doesnt exist here in India. Or atleast, it didnt for a long while.

it always used to be thousands, lakhs and crores ! But now things are changing here !

Thats some pint of a change ! Wont you say !?!

Lilly's Life said...

We have had the metric system here for years but I still find myself using both - mmm. That post was interesting though because I had no idea that you were using metric or at least going to use it at any point. Personally I still get confused and often use both depending who the conversation is with. I think of it like being multilingual (lol).

Pearl said...


I stand corrected!



Lakhs and crores?! I'm speechless...




Change here is soooo slow. Most mechanics/engineers/machinsts/medical personnel use the metric system but that's about it..

If only we'd done it 30 years ago, we'd be over it by now!


June Saville said...

G'day Pearl
Lilly and I are both from Oz, so we're in the same boat. It IS a bit like being bi-lingual, and it does take years before 'mature' adults anyway get to be able to visualise a metric measurement, but believe me it does happen!
The kids of course now know nothing else. (We made the changeover in 1966.)
By the way, personally I'm trying to ignore you Americans and your 'Zs' instead of 'Ss'etc. (See 'visualise' above.) We in Oz still mostly cling to the original English form, but Bill Gates makes the change for us if we're not careful to have the Word settings right!

Pearl said...

Hi, June!

I have to admit that the American way of spelling things is pretty stupid. Just realised (ha!)that the real spelling of "aluminum" is "aluminium". Now why in the world don't we just spell it correctly?!

As I've said before, it's a bit embarrassing.