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Is now the time to ditch imperial and go fully metric?

In a jubilee year it seems almost treasonous to suggest it, but a pro-metric site has calculated that a ‘metric majority’ has been attained. So, with most Brits brought up metric, is now the time to ditch miles and pounds?

In figures from the 2011 census released this week, most people in England and Wales (and, assuming the demographics and education are similar, the whole of the UK) were schooled in metric, not imperial. Does it make sense to switch?

Many are now preparing to drive in km/h on holiday, and at the Olympic Games next week athletes compete in 100m events, high jumps are measured to the centimetre and boxers square off against their kilogram peers – only the marathon has an imperial hangover, but at 26 miles and 385 yards that makes no sense in any unit.

Tons and tonnes of arguments

Last year we asked if you’d prefer to buy fruit by the pound and most of the metrification arguments have been discussed before. Which? doesn’t have an official line, but the (very) general view of most arguments is that metric is more widely used, easier to understand and Ireland and Australia’s switching hasn’t caused problems.

Opponents, on the other hand, say that other countries (including the US) still don’t use metric and that imperial measurement is part of our heritage. Reader Adel said:

‘Imperial measurements are part of British culture and life! Are the USA going to be the last defenders of Anglo-Saxon heritage as they are the last English speaking country to use lbs, oz, pints and gallons?’

However, Marcus stated:

‘Imperial measurements are part of British culture and life, even though they were introduced by foreign invaders. The class system and the reluctance to speak foreign languages is also part of British culture and life so not all traditions are good traditions.’

New rules, new rulers

There were also concerns that older Britons may have difficulties adjusting. The Master told us:

‘I was born in 1970 – so mainly taught metric at school […] I can’t be described as ‘stupid’ – but I find metric so confusing. Imperial is so simple. With metric you get lots of very similar names that refer to multiple/divisions in the 10s or 100s or 1000s etc.’

By contrast, Kurt, born in 1948, claims he has used metric since 1970:

‘The metric system is elegantly simple and easy to use which is why the world uses it. Like the pounds, shillings and pence of my youth I find imperial units cumbersome and nonsensical and cannot believe that anyone would find them simpler.’

Cliff Steele contributes to the schooling debate, saying:

‘Would an English teacher see nothing wrong with young people using bad grammar because it’s part of everyday life? Running two systems of measurement is ridiculous. The sooner all imperial measurements are taught in history classes instead of maths classes the better.’

As for me, I see no harm in going metric on our roads and elsewhere… but I want to have my pound-cake and eat it by keeping some of the quirks, mainly the pint of beer. There’s nothing unusual about this, even big changes aren’t all done at once – for example, US revolutionaries, those anti-monarchists, apparently continued to toast the king long after declaring their independence from him.

So, perhaps we’ll see the day when we toast metric roads with a hearty pint?

Should Britain go fully metric?

Yes - metric all the way (45%, 297 Votes)

No - we should keep the current mix of metric and imperial (34%, 228 Votes)

Neither - there should be even more imperial measurements (21%, 141 Votes)

Total Voters: 675

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Peter Hargreaves says:
13 January 2014

Author: Cliff
Peter, if most people want short, convenient figures to quote, why do fanciers of non- decimal measurements give the height of a mountain or the cruising altitude of a plane as 29,000 ft, for instance, instead of 9km?

Cliff, surely the comparison here should be the metre. Either metres or feet when discussing the physical geography of the world, just as they are used when comparing the physical dimension of living plants. Using either kilometres or miles is inappropriate on this scale.

Cliff says:
13 January 2014

Peter, I cannot see why you think kilometres are inappropriate for altitude when the altitude is above a thousand metres. It seems perfectly natural to me.If somebody asked me the horizontal distance between two points I would say 950 metres, for instance, but if it was 1500 metres I would express it as one and a half kilometres or more likely one and a half k. I would be less likely to express it as one point five kilometres, however. Although I have no objection to giving an altitude as 1500 metres rather than 1.5km I have never seen why vertical distances should be expressed differently from horizontal distances unless a greater accuracy is desired and expressing the height of a mountain as 6745 metres rather than 6.745km would probably be more natural.

Peter Hargreaves says:
13 January 2014

Author: Alex B
There is no reason why in every day speech that “a few feet” can’t be “about a metre” (or even a “foot or so” can’t be “about half a metre”).

I think Alex you have to be realistic here. Many in the building and construction industry prefer to use short words and figures. For instance when referring to timber thicknesses 4 x 2 inch will not be replaced by 100 x 50 mm. Even in metric countries like Australia and New zealand Imperial measurements are still used in the timber trade. If you speak to those in the trade about using only metric, you will be probably be given a short and straight to the point reply. What a load of B——ks! As I have said before, those people who follow an academic career in medicine, science and engineering just cannot understand the needs of those who follow a career path using their hands.


Peter – If you don’t like 100 x 50 mm, can I suggest 10 x 5 cm? It’s still metric and gets round your objections. The beauty of the metric system is that units are so easy to convert.


It’s still 4 by 2 in my book. 8 by 4 MDF. If you like 100 x 50 or 2440 x 1220 that’s OK. But when I worked, a piece of 4 1/2 inch pipe (it always was) was described as 114.3mm because we are a metric country for trade. Use what you like in your shed, but be metric at work.

kuba says:
23 July 2016

People like u r large drawback to metrication.,


There is no compulsion towards metrication, Kuba. This is a free country – we can use whatever measurements we like in our kitchens and workshops. For sensible reasons, many things outside the home are prescribed in metric units, but we still have roads measured in miles with bridge heights in feet [sometimes with metric equivalents alongside]. The balance scales in supermarkets show pounds and kilos. Most goods sold on-line are described with both imperial and metric measurements – it’s just straightforward commercial common sense to provide data that can be understood by all potential customers.

My favourite scales of measurement for big things are football pitches, Olympic swimming pools, and double-decker buses. Who cares about the exact dimensions?

Matteo says:
30 August 2016

also, funny… but 4×2 isn’t 4in x 2in

always so precise…