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Episode 2013: the imperial system strikes back

Small boy with a measuring tape and pencil

The imperial measurement system is not just still alive – it may be staging a comeback, according to reports. Should school children be taught to use both imperial and metric measurements?

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is apparently making plans to reintroduce the teaching of imperial units in schools. The draft curriculum for England is set to teach pupils how to convert between imperial and metric

I can see some logic for doing this in maths classes; the interview for my first job in a DIY chain had questions on converting feet into centimetres. My customers were a real mix of imperial and metric users, but I don’t recall imperial being taught at school. My knowledge was probably more down to my ruler using both measurements – it was a 12″ one with a rather odd 31cm on the other side.

So, should we just ditch imperial and spend time teaching kids about something else? JD Baines told us on our last imperial vs metric debate:

‘Few teachers now understand imperial, whereas in schools in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s decimal was taught in schools alongside imperial. One was taught the conversion factors as well, which were “simplified” on the official decimalisation on the UK – thus one could not go to a timber yard and get 50mm x 100mm – it was still 2″×4″. (50mm x 100mm is actually smaller!).’

Wavechange offered an alternative solution:

‘I am happy for kids to learn about imperial measures – but it should be in history classes.’

Your thoughts on the imperial march

When we last had a conversation about measurement systems, almost half of the voters in our poll thought we should ditch imperial units altogether, while a third thought we should keep our current mix. Over a fifth preferred a return to imperial. Some of the comments showed hard lines on the debate. Seares was ready to go metric; ‘It’s about bloody time.’

While David Ramsay spoke for imperial users:

‘NOOOOOOOOOO. I will refuse to use anything other than imperial and will ask for all purchases to be measured accordingly.’

John Knox was equally emphatic:

‘Imperial all the way! I still do everything pretty much in imperial. You know that the jars of jam and honey, etc. you buy are a pound in weight in the supermarket despite them putting the diabolical French measurements on instead.

‘A pint of milk is still a pint of milk and same for beer! We also know our quarter-pounder and half-pounder burgers!’

Popular abroad, the metric system is

The UK is not the only place to have converted from imperial to metric. Michael Glass offered a viewpoint from a country far, far away:

‘As an Australian I find all this angst about metrication quite appalling. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and a whole lot of other countries changed without all this fuss and bother.’

Seares thinks we should go Dutch:

‘I’m in Holland – there doesn’t seem to be any problem here with metric, and they still have their own culture (and cheese). Why would we alone in our island lose our ‘nationality’ or ‘history’ or whatever if we used the system most other countries do?’

Finally, Swanseasteve pointed out that Sandringham listed its size in hectares:

‘If metric values are good enough for the Queen they’re good enough for us!’

What are your thoughts? Is the proposed move to teach imperial putting the best foot forward or taking us back by miles?

Should imperial measurements be taught in schools?

No, it's time to go fully metric (51%, 287 Votes)

Yes, they are helpful for daily life (38%, 215 Votes)

Only if they are taught in history lessons (11%, 60 Votes)

Total Voters: 566

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This line of argument :
“My conclusion? We teach metric in schools and then encourage parents and the public in general to allow that education to be used in everyday life. We don’t confuse issues by teaching children that there is an alternative to metric and then sending them home to parents who can’t or won’t use metric for even the simple things like home cookery and the like.”

Seems to blissfully ignore the teaching of Welsh and Gaelic in the UK, and other countries like Switzerland have four official languages. If we are to enforce what is logical let us not stop at mere maths.

It seems almost bizarre that those that argue so strongly for enforcement of metrification ONLY do not see the fallacy inherent in putting their thoughts in this matter so strongly. The use of English spellings could also be standardised on the one US style as that will certainly help those who browse the Web. The fact that more people in India learn UK English than the entire population of the US would be something to overcome.

Let us just accept what has been stated numerous times but seems not explicit enough.
1. Facility with numbers as a child is not damaged by learning different base numbers.
2. UK industry does already use metric
3. The amount of time spent on Imperial measures at school is trivial.

Stimpy says:
22 May 2013

(not ‘having a go’ at diesel – just concurring)
“Encourage parents…”? Having become one very recently I’d feel very patronised by such ‘adult re-programming’ – bl**dy h*ll ! That’s a comment that has made me more ‘Imperial friendly’ as my son will be. Incidentally – I’m not anti-metric, I just prefer imperial ‘usually’ but comments like that can easily add another viewer to the anti-metric brigade.

Being Welsh – I’m aware of dual road signs. Note that around ‘the valleys’ it’s English first and Welsh underneath – everywhere else it’s the other way around. LOL at the recent mileage sign on the west of the M4 telling me how far it was to Llandain (no guessing where that is). However even the English will quickly understand troedfedd, llath, and millitir as Wales shares the same unique road signage (incidentally – without saying ‘symbol’ there is no ‘k’ in the Welsh alphabet.

Anyway – there is room for metric and imperial. Anyone who wants metric only MUST hate imperial and thus you have to ask – ‘why do i hate a certain way of measuring things’?

Please note – a bit obvious – but on top of a possible strengthening of the already curriculum ‘imperial measures in common use today’ there is the obvious sublime teaching of imperial outside school. Remember the ‘millitir’ ?

What is the point of dual language road signs when you can have single language road signs? What is best “Llandain 40 miles/millitir” or “Llandain 65 km”? The latter is international – the symbol (note symbol, not abbreviation) “km” is the same for all languages and has the same value in all countries (unlike the gallon or the pint ).

Stimpy says:
23 May 2013

Martin – see, I *knew* you’d say ‘symbol’ and you didn’t let me down 😉
Quickie though…

‘km’ think of the ‘micro-‘ symbol as comparison to non-alphabetic chars.

In Wales it *IS* one distance ‘milltir’ or ‘m’ (I know you don’t like the ‘m’ being pinched from your favourite system but the 2 languages start with the same letters. Sorry – got the spelling of mile wrong btw.

The sign says, btw – “London 170 m” and underneath London is ‘Llandain’. My initial surprise was seeing ‘London’ being translated for the first time (I think) on the M4 sign. The mileage, btw, is a non-accurate guess.

There seems to be a helpful change in the signs btw.
Whereas ‘170 m’ would be quoted twice – there’s just one ‘m’ (same with llath). Maybe it’s just a few or something – perhaps I picked up on it due to it looking peculiar – perhaps in the same way as seeing ‘km’ would be.

Peter Hargreaves says:
21 May 2013

Author: Peter Hargreaves
Comment: wavechange
“What everyone needs to learn is that the metric system usually makes our lives very much easier.”
“I cannot remember when I last measured tyre pressures in PSI – probably nearly 20 years ago.”

Wavechange the crucial comment in your above statement is the word “usually.” It has certainly made a difference to a lot of people in their chosen profession, especially science and engineering. I suspect that most people who comment on this website are retired or nearing retirement, have gone to university and studied science or engineering living in a world of logic. But we live in an illogical world of organized chaos. Other professions see things differently and you have to respect this. Like you I have benefited greatly from the metric system in my profession. But outside work our views differ. As someone commented earlier, this debate is all about perspective. As Malcolm and tonyp have just pointed out, where it matters in international trade and industry we have more or less got this right. But this debate, going on the comments, represents only a small sample of the various professions. I joined this debate to further enhance my knowledge and learn about the points put forward by people who only use metric. I am obviously missing something here and still fail to understand how one system of measurement can cover every situation. As I have mentioned before in the field of science and engineering, precision with easy calculations and a set pattern is the requirement. We can call this the inorganic world, but what about the organic world of animals and plants? Here the keyword is approximation, not precision. Let me give you one example:

A bird of prey has a wingspan of imperial 6 ft: metric: 1. 83 metres.

Straight away you have to divide the metre up into a point something. Remember we don’t not need a precise measure here only an approximation. In this respect the imperial measurement has the upper hand, it gives us the foot. A smaller unit that has a name with just enough information for us to visualise the size of this bird in relation to our own dimensions. We could of course say a hundred and eighty three centimetres, but then we are been a little too precise. This is the fundamental flaw with the metric system. The centimetre is too small and the metre is too big. Yes the metric system follows a neat easy to follow scale, but we still need a smaller unit that people can refer to by name. This is why in many ball sports when quickly describing the state of play; both players and commentators prefer the imperial system of measurement.
Not all of us studied science and engineering at university, we don’t see things so logically. The purpose of this debate for me is to try and understand the other person’s point of view. Not too dismiss one persons view in a sentence, but to explain how I work in my environment. For example, you mention wavechange that you have not had to use psi measurements for twenty years. In my own environment I would find that extremely difficult to do. As a steam engine enthusiast I teach and demonstrate the history of steam power to children. I need to do that in Ibs per sq in. (or more accurately, pound-force per square inch) it would make life difficult and confusing to quote in metric. The children are already familiar with psi when their dads check the pressure of their bicycle tyres; the breaking strain of their fishing lines or have their children’s tennis rackets tensioned, which I believe is universally measured in psi anyway. I think all the recent comments relating to psi have revolved around our obsession with the motorcar, forgetting for a moment that it has many other applications. But children see things differently; this is their world. So as you can see my needs, my requirements are very different to yours. Another reason, why a basic understanding of the imperial system should be taught in schools.

Seares says:
21 May 2013

“A bird of prey has a wingspan of imperial 6 ft: metric: 1. 83 metres.”
Which bird of prey was that? It must be a different bird to the one I was thinking about which had a wing span of 2 metres.


I have given some thought to the age and education of contributors to this and the previous imperial vs metric Conversation and I think you are right. I suggest that we should give priority to the views of younger adults and think about what current schoolchildren will have to cope with.

As I have explained earlier, I can cope with metric and imperial units, in the same way that many are fluent in two or more languages. Thanks to the previous Conversation, I have stopped using imperial units when in conversation with older people, using them only when it is clear that they are confused. which has happened only twice. I work for a charity and have quite a lot of conversation with middle-aged and elderly people.

Your example of the wingspan of a bird of prey is rather contrived. What about a bird with a wingspan of 1 metre, which would correspond to about 3 feet 3 inches?

I measure my tyre pressures in bar because I have a label that shows the pressure in bar. I would prefer if we standardised on kPa because I see value in standardisation, and the SI system is the best we have in this respect. When I was doing research we used steam autoclaves ranging from the size of a domestic pressure cooker to a couple of cubic metres. Some of the older gauges were calibrated in PSI and the newer ones in bars, but these values were converted into kPa for reports, dissertations and theses. It makes sense to use whatever units the gauges show, but it also makes sense to communicate in SI units.

Unless some effort is made to move on and standardise on metric units, the imperial system is going to have a lingering death and make the population of the UK look disorganised, and deserving of pity by those countries that have moved on.

Stimpy says:
22 May 2013

wchange – do you honestly think that the world outside ‘pities’ the UK for using miles, yards etc? This line of thinking also comes in the comment “we’re a laughing stock of the world”.

It’s not that way and to most its obvious because the thought is silly and extreme.

I worked in the European HQ of a huge company which happens to be in the UK. There were many people from Italy, France, Germany, etc. None of them laughed at ‘mile’ signs or took pity. In fact the reverse happened. They were generally inquisitive of the units, e.g. why is a foot called a foot when it cannot be the size of everyones foot and talk of certain people ‘putting on an inch of make-up’. Most, if not all really liked the units and were eager to ‘speak the lingo’ in the same way they were proud of their English usage. The ‘mile’ was extensively used and a German was interested in realising his trousers were not a ‘size number’ but in fact were inches.

When you go to other countries for an extensive time you tend to *want* to emulate and talk the lingo. Well except trying a Jamaican accent in front of Jamaican people. That just sounds ridiculous and you *would* be a laughing stock!

Measures are really not as big a divide as the minority suggests. UK’ers of all ages just naturally use it with no harm to anyone as it’s used today. Also there was a poll that showed teens-to-twenties were the group to most prefer imperial and I think this might be (intellectual or ignorant) a response to EU’ize us as many who didn’t go through decimalisation (like me) and possibly thought that decimalisation should have been the time for metrication – maybe – and thus makes a bigger minority that prefers metric – if you get my drift

We make too much of this “pity” and “divide” issue. My family are in engineering and are metric in business, as is general in the UK. Our small use of imperial and our preferences in our private lives do not disadvantage the UK internationally. We are looking at whether schools may give an understanding – not a promotion – of the obsolescent imperial system. Hopefully we will hear from DoE what the current situation is.

Stimpy says:
23 May 2013

“small use”

I really don’t think hundreds of thousands of road signs and cars qualifies for either of those.
I really don’t want to post a huge list of usages but a few examples –
Traffic talk (personal & radio),
Car economy on petrol,
The main pub “booze”,
dual use in loose foods,
“illegal” use in street market loose food,
Personal characteristics,
Enthusiasts “Car language” eg. “though’s”, inches of chairs (as is on aeroplanes), steering wheel, list too long and semi-pedantic to go further,
Most hobbies,
dual or singular in HiFi/ TV talk
Total generic almost unnoticed use in daily use in personal communication
Sometimes dual for DVD/CD
Computer usage

Oh heck – list getting long, shutting down…….
Shutdown time has arrived.

Most are personal and not relevant to our international trade and standing.

Stimpy says:
24 May 2013

Yes, I agree – but I had to ‘sort of’ standup against ‘we IN THE UK use it any less’ and obsolescence.. It’s embedded. It might be found in our DNA 🙂 The human aural traffic in a busy day in a green park somewhere (perhaps avoiding findsbury). It’s people.

Cliff says:
25 May 2013

The metric system DOES make things easier for people. I’m not a nerd. I’ve never been interested in maths. It was my least favourite subject when I was at school and I avoid it whenever I can. Living in Australia, as I do now, I find the small amounts of calculations required in day to day life are easy due to the metric system being so firmly entrenched here. I even find myself doing simple calculations in my head to pass the time when I’m bored.
For example: The building I live in has a small lap pool. It’s about 15 metres long by 5 metres wide and has a constant depth of 1 metre. I don’t enjoy any exercise but I force myself to swim lengths because I’m 65 years old and I need to lose weight. It’s boring swimming up and down so I find myself working out in my head the distance I have swum and relate it to my 5 km walk home from work and the distances between the the various landmarks on my route. It’s easy to work out that 5 times up and 5 times back is 150 metres. That means 50 times up and 50 times back is 1.5 km. I still haven’t achieved that distance (I’m a lousy swimmer) even though it’s not far in comparison to my walk home from work . I also easily worked out that the pool contains 15 x 5 x 1000 = 75000 litres of water so it weighs 75 tonnes. I weigh 90 kg so it’s around 850 times my weight.
Today I travelled by tram ( I don’t always walk) to my daughter’s apartment which is signposted as 2.5 km from where I live. There were 10 more or less equally spaced stops so it doesn’t take a genius to work out that they’re round about 250 metres apart.I never knew that.Silly little things but none of these calculations would be easy using imperial units and I wouldn’t even attempt them.
They’re easy here because of the metric system. Metric measurements are the default. The ones used in science, industry, transport and the media. I sometimes read the British newspapers on-line and I cannot understand why everything has to be so old-fashioned and unnecessarily complicated with measurements. An example from a story in the Daily Mail about a sniper:
“……….It is only designed to be effective at up to 4,921ft – just less than a mile – and capable of only ‘ harassing fire’ beyond that range.” – I looked that measurement up and it’s 1.5km
“………..How quickly they travel over 1.54 miles”. – 1.54 miles is 2.5 km
Another Daily Mail story talked about MPs getting allowances for 52 gallons of petrol even though petrol is only sold in gallons in the US and they’re different sized gallons to imperial gallons!
I looked up 52 imperial gallons and it’s 200 litres.
Why continue to complicate things like this? Why patronise the public by constantly weeding out metric measurements and replacing them with rough imperial equivalents when the original measurements are perfectly logical?
I work with a lot of British expats and they’ve all adapted totally to the straight-forward way of doing things here and laugh at the muddle of measurements back in the old country like they would laugh at an eccentric old relative who refuses to have his house connected to gas or electricity. They can’t understand why I even bother to write to British websites since I spend most of my time here. I don’t know why I do it myself except that I am still very fond of the country where I was born and hate to see it decline from a world-leader in technology to an Olde English theme park for Americans due to a fear of change and a misguided sentimental patriotism. Every day I see how much better the changeover to the metric system was done in Australia and I’m ashamed of how badly it was handled in the UK.

Seares says:
26 May 2013

The Daily Mail is a stupid reactionary paper which assumes its readers are of similar ilk. Last bastion of Victorian imperialism.

Stimpy says:
26 May 2013

Better not read the bbc news site or listen to the radio/tv

first item i clicked on was about the EDL(far right) clash with a far left organisation – apparently they were ‘about 100 yds apart’.

Sorry 🙂

Stimpy says:
26 May 2013

(I can already hear the tapping keyboards of complaints)

Stimpy says:
26 May 2013

MalcR: I did mention “Personal characteristics”.

Stimpy says:
26 May 2013

…. land for sale,
dimensions of houses sold at estate agents,
clothing sizing,
wheels & tyres,
the press,
the mass media,
examples in Europe,
Did I mention ‘conversational’?……

Arthur says:
3 March 2021

They WERE laughing – they just did it behind your back.

Imperial is idiotic, obsolete and ridiculous. The one exception is a foot, which is close to a light-nanosec.


Just a little something on being exposed to two languages as a benefit. Personally I think the base 10/base 12 etc has the same benefit for minds and probably the younger the better. However flexibility of mind can be an over-rated asset.

Stimpy says:
26 May 2013

You daydream about the metric system. That’s a new one on me 🙂

Why continue to complicate things like this? Why patronise the public by constantly weeding out metric measurements and replacing them with rough imperial equivalents when the original measurements are perfectly logical?

I agree, they should convert to imperial and ’round up/down’ to a sensible number. No-one needs it so complicatedly silly. It happens the other way too. There’s a carpark near me that shows an imperial height then in metric rounded to the exact millimetre. Would anyone seriously read that bit?

It’s fine for ex-pats learning your metricated stuff and ‘talking it’. It annoys me in Spain where ‘settled Brits’ make no attempt to learn a bit of Spanish.
Rest assured I know many ex-pats too who return here now-and-again. When they’re back they quickly re-adapt. It’s just part of the ‘merging in’ process. I am talking about young people though, not specifically retired people. There biggest moan is of another conversion. The AU$/UK£ rate.

Do they truly ‘laugh’ at words that describe lengths and heights, distances, that sort of thing? Really? Do they laugh at American sizes too? Or French accents?
Incidentally – you might find that many Australian goods are still in imperial. You’d be surprised.
I’m glad you retain a fondness of the country you left to go to the other side of the world – you still have a ‘patriotic edge.

There is no need to worry about any decline (there isn’t one) as a world leader etc. Apart from the Empire being retired we now have other ‘high output’ countries. This includes China who are a huge economic power now. India will probably follow along with some ‘ex-communist’ countries. I’m aware that Australia make suncreams – do they make anything else? I believe it’s a service economy (finance, insurance, that sort of thing) which does not matter at all. The only other thing that bothers me is ‘who is Australian’. There seams to be an over site of the real one’s – aborigines. They probably had their own measure system as their culture is very rich and unique.

I don’t understand the Theme park thing, sorry.

Finally – are you really ‘ashamed’ of imperial usage in the UK due to metrication ‘bad handling’ (it’s actually a personal choice thing, but that’s fine) – every day? Seriously – every day?
My mind is full of wanting to go to Barbados for a big holiday, my little-one growing half-an-inch per day, my grandparents, job, cash in the bank, that sort of thing. Ok, this metric thing is fun but it does not envelope ‘every day’ of my existence. Too many other good things really.

A month ago I emailed the Dept for Education to see what the latest was on the proposal to teach Imperial measurements in schools. I have just received the following reply from the National Curriculum Review Division. If it raises any questions they have given me a correspondence number if i need to reply. Not much meat on these bones.

“Thank you for your email concerning the inclusion of imperial measures in the new draft primary programmes of study. Our reforms aim to ensure that pupils are more confident in working with all measures, including conversions between common imperial and metric units using materials in practical contexts, where appropriate. There is also an expectation that pupils should be confident in conversions between miles and kilometres. Miles and pints are still units of measure in use today and therefore it would seem absolutely right that pupils should be familiar and confident with their use. The allocation of specific teaching time to different topics is a matter for individual schools to make.”

This is a long-winded way of saying “Nothing is changing”.

Stimpy says:
5 June 2013

I had an exact copy of that email letter-for-letter except mine ends with

“….However, as you mention in your email, metric measurements are also clearly vital so the new national curriculum will continue to emphasise metric units ”

It looks like the main text is pro-forma and there’s a ‘personalised’ ending to it.

Yes- despite my views on this forum, and a preference for imperial units, I still believe it important to teach metric units. It is the basis for science.

I’m not anti-metric, but I choose to prefer imperial in most things. I just happen to enjoy listening to people telling me I am wrong to have a preference.

Peter Hargreaves says:
5 June 2013

I have just got back from a weeks holiday in Yorkshire where I was involved in a festival of engineering event held at the Tees Barrage. The idea behind this event was to promote and encourage youngsters to go into engineering as a career. I was involved myself in the heritage side doing some lectures on the history of various North-East firms that helped to make this the industrial heartland of England. Talking to a large number of retired engineers who are know octogenarians, they inform me sadly that this is all too little too late. Had we taken engineering more seriously as a career opportunity twenty years ago, then those nearing retirement would have had the energy to get involved. But the notion that we lost out because of our system of measurement or suffered because we weren’t fully metric is just nonsense I’m afraid. When I discussed this with retired engineers I was met with a look of surprise and laughter. The reasons for our decline are many and varied, but measurements are not one of them.

Stimpy says:
6 June 2013

The notion of imperial ‘holding us back’ or ‘costing us’ or a factor with unemployment has always been a desperate argument with no way of proving or substantiating the claim (or in-infact counter claiming it). One of the largest economies in the world has no problems.

There used to be a ‘metrication expert’ (how the hell do you get that title?) who originally helped a metrication effort abroad before becoming so submerged in the issue that it clouded his judgement and caused him to make wild and weird theories. Unfortunately a terminal disease means he is not ‘with us anymore’ (I might have thought his views were nonsense and ridiculous but any loss of life is tragic, regardless of argument/view point.

He suggested that the USA economy had lost a trillion dollars a year by not using words like ‘metre’ and ‘gramme’ and so on. The ‘laughing stock of the world’ argument is equally silly (believe me, there is no Brazilian individual who is currently ‘ROTFL’ due to the word ‘pint’).

Psychiatrists refer to the problem as ‘awfulising’.

As an aside – many husband/wife or family arguments lead to awfulising.

I find it fascinating that some individuals practise this oddity when referring to measurement words.

Peter Hargreaves says:
6 June 2013

Author: Peter Hargreaves
Comment: Martin Vlietstra
This is a long-winded way of saying “Nothing is changing”.

I am probably better placed to comment on this, than most people who contribute to this site with regard to the school curriculum, as I have two children aged seven and five at primary school. I can tell you that children at the moment learn absolutely nothing about imperial measurements. According to the school history books both Brunel and Stephenson used metric. The schools world atlas books are all in metric with no mention of miles. Their rulers are one-sided showing only centimetres. They have no idea what a mile, foot or inch is!
This current situation must be very confusing for them. At this age growing up outside the school gates they hear and see an imperial world. Because when for instance reading bedtime stories children’s authors tend to use imperial measurements. Raold Dahl refers to his giants as 24 feet tall, flat Stanley is one inch thick and Winnie the Pooh lives in 100-acre wood. In their leisure time, we will measure their bicycle frame and wheel sizes in inches and their tyre pressures using PSI. Hungry children enjoy pizzas and burgers bought in inches and pounds. When playing sport such as football and golf, it will be all measured in yards, feet and inches. Their Hornby train set will be scaled using a mixture of both metric and imperial. Fishing rods in feet, and fish caught and weighed in pounds and ounces.
All the government is doing is to address the current situation where these children will grow up confused and ignorant about imperial measures. But the most important thing to do is to teach children how to get the best out of each measuring system. Using the right tool for the job. So in response to your statement Martin “things have changed”. But as Malcolm mentioned earlier, an understanding – not a promotion.

Stimpy says:
6 June 2013

I have a four year old.

I can tell you that walking into a book shop will show you that curriculum based books mention imperial rather frequently.

I remember a question about a train and a cyclist and how far they had travelled if they both set off at the same time (speeds were shown in mph).

Some answers showed decimalised miles where – surprisingly (to me) – some answers showed miles and yards.

Which clearly is not a convert – from their motoring website:

“Fuel economy calculator

How efficient is your car? Here’s how to check your mpg”

It’s all part of the rich tapestry of life! I do business in North America where, generally speaking, both Imperial (and the other Imperial) and Metric are alive and well and getting along together. I also do business in Europe and the FSU where there are a surprising number of functioning relics of the pre-Metric past . . . many ‘standard’ sizes, for instance of sawn wood, are in bizarre numbers of millimetres which translate immediately into inches. Similarly 4′ x 8′ ply and particle board are readily available and rolls of insulating material come in handy 2′ widths. Pipes of course are all really in inches expressed in millimetres and their threads, bless them, are BSP . . . Whitworth would have been proud!

There are, of course, good reasons why people have an emotional attachment to Imperial, there is something more human about measures that scale easily to the, well . . . human body. Speaking for myself I have never found a satisfactory glass size to substitute for the pint.

And don’t get me on time and distance. Hexagesimal not decimal is the thing for all of the former and large measures of the latter. My children, two small and two medium, have no problem understanding two different systems. We even ‘proved’ the relevance of the acre by measuring the actual area of ground tilled by one man and his horse in one day in Eastern Europe where they still plough by horsepower. I was the measure and my pace is a yard not a metre as my old Sergeant Major’s pace stick would prove. The ploughman’s day’s work was almost exactly one acre though, no doubt, city folk would express it as point something or other of a Hectare.

There is no reason why people should not be educated in both systems as, after all, many of the most creative scientists and engineers have worked in both and most of the absolutist arguments on both ‘sides’ are rubbish. And now I really must go as the wind outside is gusting at 70 mph and the temperature is falling toward 32F . . . (Oh yes, many of us still think in Fahrenheit and I, for one, don’t see why I should have unwanted change foisted upon me!)

Robert Fleming says:
31 January 2015

RIDICULOUS. The metric system is an internationally agreed, international standard system of measurement, officially recognised in EVERY country in the world, except USA, Burma and Liberia. The resistance of these countries and a small number of British conservatives for purely nationalistic reasons is childish and causes unnecessary confusion and issues in industry and commerce for no positive benefits whatsoever. Get over it.

There is a big difference between what industry, commerce and all work-related organisations should use – metric – and what we may choose to use in our personal lives. Education should (and is I believe) teaching metric – whislt imparting knowledge of other measuring systems. If someone, through age or background, can visualise something better in imperial than in metric or simply chooses to use imperial in their personal activities then we have no right to either force them into other ways, nor to criticise them. Have we?

I have used metric units since I was a school kid but would often switch to imperial units when in conversation with older people. As I said earlier in this or the previous Conversation, I have dropped the imperial units (with exceptions of miles and pints in the context of beer) during conversations. Occasionally I have given imperial alternatives, but I’m pleased to see how many people cope well with metric units. It’s still working well, a couple of years after I started the experiment.

Assertions that imperial is quaint for non-Englanders are absurd. The so-called British imperial units are simply obsolete pan-European units but whose measurements differed according to region and country. Inch, mile and foot are from Italy; pint from une pinte so France. These units are non-sensical in the 21st century and should be phased out now. Do you realise as well it costs UK business more to use these anachronistic units? By the way I am English. What a waste of time forcing pupils to convert! The current situation cannot continue as someone will finish the task since you have some people conversant in some units and some in others and some in neither or one system! Pure madness.

A further way of saving billions of pounds would be for David Cameron in his In/Out
negotiations with his fellow european leaders would be for him to concede Imperial measurements for metric within the U.K. on the understanding that the rest of Europe adopt English as it’s first langauge.

Julie A Randall says:
15 February 2021

I think both systems should be taught. I’m young but I love Imperial. It is the fact that it is a visual measurement rather than only numeric. A foot long (ones foot). A pint (lager, milk). An inch (too of forefinger). A mile. A milestone. Our road signs still say miles. I love it. Love the above comment on the quarter pounder burger. Haha.