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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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Comments

Currently school children are taught to convert between feet and centimetres, pounds and kilograms and so on. They are not taught how to convert feet and inches to inches and vice versa, nor are they taught how to add up a set of values denoted in yards feet and inches. It has been estimated that the teaching of imperial units will take six months of available teaching time, which, if it done entirely during the four years of junior school, will take up 12½% of the school day. Moreover the authors of such a syllabus cannot just rehash the syllabus of forty years ago – the syllabus will have to be taught in such a way that calculators cam be used.

Peter Hargreaves says:
17 March 2013

I notice that two people have given their height here using two different units in the metric system, giving a height of 1.9 m or 172 cm tall. But this should be avoided when using metric measurements. This is something the late Pat Naughtin a world authority on the metric system and mentioned in one of the earlier comments about not mixing duel and dual when referring to millimetres and centimetres or in this case metres. I believe he advocated using centimetres only for height. This is why the imperial measurement tends to be favoured when referring to height; it is simple the foot followed by the inch, never inches on their own. We don’t really need height measurements down to the nearest millimeter, just an approximation,
At our local sports centre parents complained that the pool depths were not shown in imperial. When the manager was approached about this his response was ”do you know I couldn’t even tell you what my own children’s height is in centimetres”. The problem is that organisnations get weighed down with health and safety legislation that they forget to use common sense in using a system of measurement that people can easily relate to. Six foot is much easier to say than one metre and eighty-three centimetres or should that be a hundred and eighty three centimetres.
With regards to the comments that the imperial system should be consigned to history, I’m afraid it is actually the metric system that has been consigned to history, hence my earlier comment about Stephenson railway gauge in millimetres. It should of course be 4 ft 8 ½ inches the width of a roman chariot. Perhaps someone could tell me why children’s authors do this? All it achieves is to confuse the child even more.

The statement that Stephenson’s railway gauge was the same as that of a Roman chariot is a myth. You need only go to Pompeii and measure the wheel gaps between the stepping stones. Moreover, the spacing of Roman wheeled traffic was as variable as that of the modern day – just as cars and HGVs have different widths, so did chariots and carts.

For many years is has legal requirement that safety information such as depths of swimming pools be posted in metric units: if safety notices that comply with the law are not there, insurance cover might well lapse. If you are safety conscious, then you would do best to understand the metric –the system it is not going to change to accommodate you.

Peter@ .. When measuring a person’s height with Imperial measures we only measure to the nearest inch. We don’t need to use fractions of an inch. It’s the same with metric measures. We don’t need to use millimetres, centimetres are sufficient. Generally measurements of height, waist size, neck size etc are in centimetres, and this is why we see centimetres used for clothing sizes. However these are the exceptions that the late Pat Naughtin has written on his site when he mentions that the textile industries have remained with centimetres rather than millimetres. In almost all other situations millimetres are the preferred unit, because for most day to day measurements, they remove the decimal fraction, are whole numbers, and therefore reduce errors.
Also if a person’s height is 183 centimetres we wouldn’t say “a hundred and eighty three centimetres”. We are more likely to say the shorter term “one eighty three centimetres”.

Peter Hargreaves says:
20 March 2013

What I should have added to my statement on Stephenson’s railway gauge were the words “more or less” the width of a roman chariot.
Every time the metric debate is discussed, it is our road signs that are brought to the forefront, but as someone else commented, this is not really a priority for any government. The two questions I would be asking are: How much would it cost and do you propose to change like for like? In other words replacing a metal plate on a pole with the same. Technology has of course made great progress into the twenty first century. No government will invest millions in old technology. We now have photocell displays and variable message signs, which can continually update information to the driver. You also have to realise that most cars and lorries now have built in sat nav, so you can choose your choice of measurements. The great advantage in using photocell and sat nav technology is in bridge heights, which of course are already in imperial and metric to cover health and safety requirements. The problem with a fixed metal sign is that in spite of dual measurements, lorries still get stuck under bridges causing enormous delays and cost. Road signs are only an approximation to give you a rough idea of journey times (not much good when your stuck in a traffic jam). Any government would rather spend the money on sorting out Britain’s traffic chaos, which costs industry millions. This could partly be achieved by photocell and variable message sign technology. If you don’t like the current imperial signs, then switch your sat nav from yards to metres.

wjg – we’d call a handle 3/4 of a pint!
It’s easier to give it a short name than to have to ask for four hundred and twenty five millilitres of your best please, landlord.

Seares says:
22 March 2013

Mine’s a Stein! (1000 ml)

Stimpy says:
22 March 2013

Hah! Shows that we can handle it better! We’re real men – we have proper pints they’re bigger than yours!!!

Um.

Then I have an admission.

I’m recent teetotal!

(just a bit of fun)

P.S. When I stopped drinking my b/pressure went from 140/100 to 115/75 and yes that’s mm of mercury!!

mm mercury is not really a metric unit, and is only really relevant if measuring blood pressure with a sphygmomanometer. 16/9 kPa would, I believe, be a good metric blood pressure.

Stimpy says:
23 March 2013

Jeez – I was trying to make metricators feel a bit better! And it’s use is universal. All those millimetres.

Second question – can anyone even pronounce that “sphygmomanometer”.
What’s wrong with Blood pressure machine?!! 😉

Most blood pressure monitors are electronic devices, whereas a sphygmomanometer can only refer to the traditional blood pressure machine using a column of mercury in a calibrated glass tube.

Thus using the correct term is unambiguous and provides a spelling challenge. 🙂

Sorry you have had to give up drinking.

Seares says:
23 March 2013

This forum is getting silly. I think it’s time to draw it to a close.

Of course it’s silly and it is a learning experience. It’s much more interesting than reading comments about nuisance calls and phone contract price rises.

Stimpy says:
24 March 2013

Agreed, so log as there is no personal attack you can post entries that don’t belittle others.
It can become heated but then it gets even more attention .

The topic can generate v.interesting views

All countries, except for the US, Liberia, and Myanmar have officially adopted the metric system. All countries, including those three, use the metric system. However, no country is totally metric, or for that matter, totally any other measurement system. In the English speaking world, Australia and New Zealand, are arguably the most metricated in the world. In Australia in aviation were most measurements are metric, the foot is still used to define altitude, and the mile visibility, and horrizontal separation of aircraft. In marine weather forecasts, the nautical mile is used to define visibility, and the knot for tidal current and wind speed. Land weather forecasts are totally metric.

Its important to note that aviation, and marine weather forecasts, are not sectors of society, or community, that “joe public” has much involment with. Therefore except for maybe weekend boat owners, its unusual for most of the public, to encounter these non metric measures.
The result is, that although there is, a diminishing number of the older population, still recording personal information, in Imperial measures, (more in height than in weight), the measures used by the total population are metric.

Another important fact is that there is no diversity, no split, no polarization, by the population with regard to what measures they use. They are united and uniform in what they use and that is metric. This unity, in a small way, helps unite the country.

Contrast that to the UK.
A metrication process, that had taken 47 years, and counting. (Australia and NZ took about 12 to 15 years.) A metrication process, that because its taken 47 years, has resulted in polarization of the population, and therefore a divided country. A metrication process, that has taken so long, that there is a growing number of the population, adopting a hybrid system of measures, that is called “British measures”, that is neither Imperial or metric. A divided country that does not fully understand Imperial measures, or metric measures. A country whose students are lagging below international averages, for maths and science qualifications, that are essential for the country’s develoment.

A country whose Government can only see short term, to the next general election, that dithers and can’t take the unpopular decisions, that are in the country’s best interests. A Government that is looking back, to Imperial measures, rather than forward to metric measures. A Government that thinks that the mixed measures, that divides the population, is an acceptable situation, and that their country can still be a world leader, in a world that is increasingly growing more global, with international measures being metric.

Its common sense, that a country should have one system of measurement. Metric units of measurement are well established, in medicine, science, and technology, and have always been in sectors that Imperial never measured, such as electricty and temperature. (The Fahrenheit scale is neither Imperial or USC). Metric measures are the international language of measures, for global trade, and global communication. Its inevitable that metric measures will be the measures of the future.

A Government that wants more emphasis, put on Imperial units of measure, in the education system is self centred and looking inward and “stokes the fires” of the unwanted mixed measurement mess, that causes more division, in the community and society. Only a country that is united can move forward in a world that is increasingly competitive

Stimpy says:
25 March 2013

@w j g I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with you all at the same time. I know you said “english speaking” but I felt I had to add – I reckon Germany is the most metric of all, perhaps going back to the 1930’s 😉

I don’t believe this division thing. 5 ft 10 in goes from the Orkneys to the Isle of Wight. Biased example but you know what I mean.

I have noticed, being British and middle aged I have never heard of “a British mess” from anyone except metric advocates. We have a unique set of measures that we can pick and choose. It’s not rare to hear someone to say ‘a piece of metal 2 ft sq and 5 mm thick’. And they do this without even knowing about this ‘Metric Versus Imperial war”.

I support adding more imperial to the curriculum because life in the UK *is* mainly imperial in conversation when you think of it. Even if shops are ordered to advertise differently. Whenever someone says something like ‘It’s about 200 metres on the right” you could usually ask where he was posted and in which war!

Children’s (and adult’s) brains are well underused. Like a car park with 2 cars! There is NO HARM or illness or disease from being taught imperial so they can converse within society. When I was at school imperial ‘evolved’ in my brain because there was no imperial at school. The 90’s curriculum brought imperial back. It shows how easy ‘approximate’ imperial is to learn – but to formalise it just gives kids the proper use of imperial. It’s an odd juxtaposition to learning french as well as English (or cymraeg). Except it’s the other way round! People should relax and stop thinking that we went or were going metric in the early 70’s onwards. It’s in-comparible to decimal money (like learning ‘time’ is incomparable to metric). The mix of units gives us a slight advantage and is convenient but some more education of imperial is a professional move – so long as it doesn’t overshadow metric, of course.

Stimpy@…
Change is occurring around us all the time. It always has, and it will always will.
You may feel comfortable, with the mixed measurement situation, as it is now and that no further metrication should take place, but changes will occur, and the metrication process will continue, although it has slowed due to Government inaction, over the last few years.
My concern is for the next generation, the school children of today, who should not have to learn a confusing and divided mixed measurement system, that has been caused by Government inaction.
The change from Imperial measures to metric measures, called metrication, is not something that occurs within 1 month or 1 year, or 10 years, but it shouldn’t take 47 years. Metrication is not uniform, its not constant. Some measures changed relatively fast. Petrol being dispensed in litres for example. Other measures took longer. The use of the kilogram, for the sale of fruit and veg, for example. However the metrication process, has slowed but not stopped. If past Governments had completed the process, the people you refer to, would be mostly communicating measures in metric. Not all people but most people, and particularly young adults with children. If a child encounters metric at school, and in the home, that child is more likely to understand metric better, than the child who encounters the mixed situation of metric, in school and Imperial at home, and sadly not understanding either measurement.
Education, throughout all sectors of the community, is I beleive the key to completing the metrication process, healing the measurement divide, and moving us to a one measurement country. People will learn and adapt to what they see around them, and the metrication of road signs is a step in the education of road users, to familiarise themselves with metric measures.
A move from soft metrication to hard metrication, and the removal of supplementary labels in the retail sector, is another area where people would become more familiar, with metric measures.
I have no doubt that metric measures, will be the measures of the future.
For the sake of the next generation, the children of today, we must insist that they learn metric only, the international measures of trade and communication. They will inherit a world that is alot more competitive than it is now. For our country to retain its place as a world leader, they will need to compete with other one measurement countries like Germany, Japan, China, Russia, India, and Brasil.
For the Government to regulate, the our children learn two incompatable systems of measurement, one of which is becoming globally redundant, is not only a disservice to our children, but a disservice to the future of our country.

We are not a mixed measurement country where it matters, we are metric. People have the freedom to privately use whatever measurement systems they wish, as is apparent from this conversation.
This conversation is about whether giving students an understanding of the imperial system of measurement is a good thing or not. We were taught history, Latin, Greek, history of science, for example – useful for a well-based understanding of other subjects.
Incidentally, tell me a democratic government that does not look to the next election – not really relevant.
I’d much rather we got this worked up about HS2! 4 feet 8 1/2 inch gauge presumably.

Malcolm R@
Its one of the freedoms we have, and I hope we never lose…the freedom to choose what we personally use. Imperial or metric. I have no problem with that.
You write “We are not a mixed measurement country where it matters,” I disagree
Where it matters, is in education. In all education, from pre-school to adult, to the elderly, and retired. But particularly, in the education of children from 4 years to 10 years of age. Our numbering system is decimal, and young children learn that, at an early stage of their education. The decimal based metric system, should be learnt as an extension of our numbering system. Imperial measures, the names of their units, have a place, but not as measurements. They should be learnt when a student is in their teens, and only in relation to history and literature.
We are a mixed measurement country, because we are still metricating. Past Governments and this government has allowed the process to stall. The Government has no will or stomarch to complete the process.

The HS2 is to be standard gauge 1435 mm

Stimpy says:
25 March 2013

I don’t quite agree with the metric system re: ‘We are not mixed measures where it matters’. Road signs are fundamentally ‘matter’. In medicinal usage the reverse is true.
I bought my house where it was advertised with rooms being ‘X feet by Y feet’. For Americans – I know you sell houses by square units – we don’t. Well unless it’s office space and fields. Anyway – for my carpet I gave the imperial units – their computer has a metric/imperial switch – and this goes for tiles, wooden flooring etc even if the price is by metric (or metric/feet[yds]). Listening to people’s conversations can be a good example. Using imperial ‘fades in’ to the conversation whereas using a metric unit sounds ‘noticeable’ in conversation (usually)

Cliff says:
25 March 2013

Malcolm R,
The Department for Transport,one of many government departments, still uses mixed measurements most of which are imperial. Most of the media still uses imperial measurements without even having the courtesy to give the metric equivalent in parentheses. This reinforces the idea that imperial measurements are the norm and forces the public to continue with or learn imperial measurements or remain uninformed. How can you say Britain is not a mixed measurement country where it matters?
You compare understanding imperial units to that of understanding history, Latin, Greek and the history of science. I agree that ancient languages and the history of science can be useful for an understanding of other subjects but I fail to see how the understanding a redundant way of measuring things can be useful for any other subject. It is useful only for extending the self-perpetuating problem of its continued use. Would you also advocate the teaching of shillings and pence conversions to decimal money?
Bad government is very relevant.The lack of leadership to finish the job of metric changeover by the many governments that have been in power since it began in 1965 is scandalous. This problem has festered because cowardly politicians have continually swept it under the carpet or pandered to traditionalists and the tabloid press in order to keep their votes. Of course politicians want to win the next election but it’s tragic that in their quest for votes, leadership and integrity lose out to cheap popularity.

Stimpy says:
25 March 2013

@ Malcolm R – I don’t think the politics give way to ‘finishing’ or ‘cowardly’. I believe they assume enough has been done with only a tiny minority (albeit loud) finding ‘mess’, ‘cowardly’, ‘ridiculous’ etc.
So as it stands they see it as ‘done’ and have brought common measures that’s ingrained into our very language – and made it a formalised item in the curriculum, if that makes sense.

cvs says:
26 March 2013

Stimpy says: “I think I would care what the road users would think. Conversion in other countries have been to nations of a few million – here, the UK, have 60 m”
Any idea of how many people there are in India Stimpy?

Stimpy says:
26 March 2013

@cvs. About a handful I expect 😉 Granted there are a lot of people in India. They fought for independence, against the British. More recent ‘independents’ have been extremely friendly and cordial -a lot to do with HM The Queen, who has helped nations ‘move on’ but stay in a commonwealth and many accepting the Queen as the head of state. We don’t know how lucky we are with QE2. (Incidentally those with her as head of state see her as their monarch – eg “Queen of St Lucia” not “Queen of GB and N/Irl). Whoops – way off topic! My point being – India fought/struggled for independence. Bearing that in mind do you think Indians would like “The IMPERIAL system”. Ok, it’s fair to say that it’s still very common to hear imperial usage but in the main they will have adopted, to some degree, the metric system.

Also – Maybe I’m being a tad unfair, but isn’t the road system in India a bit of an organised anarchy? You take your life in your hands. There really is no time to look at signs! It’s the same with the train system. A (female) Indian friend told me it was often to see a dead person next to the tracks. It shocked me!

Peter Hargreaves says:
27 March 2013

I really fail to understand what a system of measurement has to do with Britain’s decline in industry, or for that matter any other organization overseas. If you look at one of the most successful companies in the world Apple Computers their products are promoted through the imperial measure of the inch. Every child in the land knows the measurement of an ipad. From a marketing perspective the inch is a better selling point. One figure instead of three one syllable, instead of four. To the customer in the shop, who asks for his photographs to be 150mm by 150mm that’s fine. But to the young lad behind the counter who probably has to say that a hundred times a day, it is so much easier to say 6 x 4 inch. When you have fixed mass produced standard size, the inch is a brilliant measurement, easy to visualise and add up. Just don’t try and break it down into fractions. Timber merchants will sell sheets of plywood in imperial, but when quoting thicknesses revert to millimetres. To the gentlemen who plays petanque and measures in centremetres that is fine, but in golf with a much larger playing field, I prefer the imperial numbering system. A bigger field of play requires a bigger interval of numbers. If I was playing tiddlewinks then I would probably use centremetres. This is using the best of both worlds. Why restrict yourself to one measurement.
In any metric versus imperial debate it has to be remembered that neither is a perfect system and you will choose the one depending on your profession and your environment. The reason that this country has never gone completely metric is quite simply because the British public have no enthusiasm to restrict themselves to one measuring system.

Stimpy says:
28 March 2013

Great post. Have you ever noticed that if certain (EU treaty enforcing) items are displayed the majority have to advertise with them, but if they can ‘get away with it’ (jeez) they’ll use imperial (well except office space etc which is advertised in square feet). I once needed a foot of sound deadening rubber and I could only buy a metre as it was their enforced smallest unit. Then I bought 5 sq ft of sound deadening tiles from the same place!

A decline in economics has nothing to do with people saying imperial words, but there are people who like to pretend that’s the case.

You talk of mm usage – I buy a certain car magazine and in it’s reviews on a car it states sizes in both mm and ft/in. One example was ‘length 14 ft (4267mm)’. Even the most extreme metric pushers must see why probably all of us would read the easy version.

When your car magazine stated “14 ft”, did they means “A value between 13.5 ft and 14.5 ft” or did they mean “14 ft 0 in” (which means “A value between 14 ft 0.5 in and 14 ft 1.5 in”. The exact conversion of 14 feet suggests to me that either you were looking at a vehicle that was designed in the US or that you could have been the victim of a double conversion – typically “Original definition = 4250 mm; convert to feet and inches to get 13 ft 11.5 in (rounded to the nearest half inch), round this value to 14 feet and then convert back to millimetres”.

Stimpy says:
29 March 2013

@martin. first: hi! nice to see a fellow fighter here 😉

I’ll make an admission. I know the car mag had done a piece on my car – a Triumph Stag and they are tip-to-tip 14ft. Now, the mag in question always has a ‘stats’ box very like other mags (I buy a few and ‘newspaper style’ – you can guess my hobby). I remember it said 14ft – as with the previous poster’s point on imperial easiness. Remembering that they DO have the mm bracketed after I just did the “what is 14ft in mm” straight into the browser address field and got the number back. Sorry if this sounds like I’m cheating but I HONESTLY remember 14ft whereas I CANNOT remember how many thousands of millimetres it is – the point being to support a previous person’s post. If that makes sense. I also have 2 10ft minis 🙂

P.S. they also do the performance data in these mags – I think you’ll know how it’s done. 😉

Cliff says:
28 March 2013

Peter Hargreaves,
You fail to see what a system of measurement has to do with the decline in British industry? Any businessman will tell you that standardisation makes industry more efficient and a common system of measurement is a core element of standardisation. A universal system of measurement facilitates the transfer of technology, allows the interchangeability of components. It makes technical communication easier to “be reading from the same prayer book”. Failure to be completely fluent in SI measurement puts the British workforce at a distinct disadvantage to the rest of the industrialised world.
You mention the international success of Apple computers. Apple computers are successful because they are a good product DESPITE their screen sizes being advertised internationally in inches (or thumbs in French). Not BECAUSE of that fact. The Americans were the pioneers in computers so their influence is going to dominate in that field as does the use of American English in computer terminology and popular music, their other “gift” to the world. The Apple website in Australia, where I’m writing from now, gives the dimensions of their products in SI units and decimal inches. I’ve never seen a tape measure in decimal inches so I’m not sure what the point of that is.
It’s true that SI units like millimetre, centimetre, metre, and kilometre are longer words to say than imperial inches feet yards and miles and that’s the reason that millimetre is often abbreviated to “mil”, kilometres are called “kays” and kilograms are called “kilos”. I work in the building industry and it’s common to drop the unit of some things altogether and refer to things like 100mm studs as 100 studs. The ease of use of SI units is well worth the inconvenience of a longer name.
You say you prefer the imperial system for a bigger field of play. Why? I know nothing about golf but if I hit a ball 250 metres I could visualise that easily and I could even relate it to being a quarter of a kilometre. If I hit the ball 250 feet or 250 yards I would have no idea of how that equated to a mile. It’s the same thing with altitudes given in thousands of feet. Altitudes in metres are automatically related to kilometres whereas twenty thousand feet would just confuse most people.
The British public have not had the chance to see the metric system work properly because of the botched job the government made of the changeover.That’s why there is little enthusiasm for it. Of course some metric measures have replaced imperial measures but as long as imperial measures are still being used there is no system and the whole operation was pointless. 1069 metres in a mile is as nonsensical as 1760 yards or 5280 feet in a mile. People cannot see the point in changing from the familiar if there’s no advantage and I don’t blame them.
Before the Berlin wall came down in 1990 the East Germans were quite happy driving their Trabant cars and their government were happy for them to think that way. After the wall came down they discovered BMWs and Mercedes and realised what they’d been missing. It’s time the British government completed the changeover that began in 1965 and allowed the British people to have their blinkers lifted.

Stimpy says:
29 March 2013

@Cliff.. I’ll keep it brief – mainly because of being knackered from trying to drive on the M4 doing 0.5 mph instead of 80.

Measures really don’t have an effect on British industry (or American to that matter). It’s been over used – as an excuse – for ages but, yet again, only worded by a tiny minority. Apart from the fact that Britain is mostly a service and banking based economy (hated by the EU) measures really don’t come up as issues. You mention the Apple Corp. Yes, they follow the route of -even australian- screens. However you can bet that metric was used in it’s construction – but if you look at many adverts for Mac items – firstly there’s a big absence of measures (excel, perhaps, for the screen) – iPad adverts are ‘arty’.

Your efficiency policy is something consumers will never be subject to (except screens) – this goes for imperial OR metric stuff. Of course something tangible would have an effect. Things would be highly efficient if everything was the same colour (e.g., grey).

You miss the point with golf. If you take it from a metric or imperial point of view you wouldn’t compare the distance with a long distance – I mean, that’s just daft. “The hole is 230 metres away, so that’s just under a quarter of a km, let me think now….”. Yards are ordinarily ‘stride paces’ so the mind focuses more on how far it would be to go via walking to get an idea of how hard to hit the white ball. BTW Metric or imperial – I’m cr@p at golf.

Also – you’d be surprised at how many people ‘get a feel’ with 35000ft versus 2000ft (ie Jumbo versus a two seater.)

Anyway – I’m knackered.

Stimpy says:
10 April 2013

I don’t believe this metric extreme argument on how you use imperial.

“how far from work do you live” and: “About 10 miles” next question “hey but what’s that in yards?”

“how far from work do you live” and: “About 10 km” next question “hey but what’s that in cm’s?”

Outside the science community people simply won’t do that

Cliff says:
6 April 2013

To all imperial lovers:
I live and work in the UK and Australia.
On nice days I often walk home from work instead of taking public transport. Both in London and Melbourne .
The following are the walking directions given on the default Google settings for each city:

London journey:
3.3 mi, 1 hour 6 mins

Walking directions to South Kensington
1. Head south-east on A400 toward Euston Rd 30 ft
2. Turn right onto Euston Rd 0.2 mi
3. Turn left onto Great Portland St 338 ft
4. Turn left onto Great Portland St/B506 351 ft
5. Turn right onto Devonshire St 0.4 mi
6. Turn left onto Marylebone High St 0.2 mi
7. Continue onto Thayer St/B524 98 ft
8. Turn right onto George St 0.6 mi
9. Continue onto Kendal St 0.2 mi
10. Turn left towards Connaught St 23 ft
11. Turn right onto Connaught St 26 ft
12. Turn left onto Albion St 0.5 mi
13. Turn right towards W Carriage Dr 85 ft
14. Turn left onto W Carriage Dr 0.5 mi
15. Continue onto Exhibition Rd
Go through 1 roundabout 0.5 mi
16. Turn right at Thurloe St
Destination will be on the left 223 ft
Distance 3.3 mi

Melbourne journey:
4.2 km, 56 mins
Walking directions to Parliament Railway Station
1. Head north on Yarra St toward Claremont St 500 m
2. Turn left
Take the stairs 900 m
3. Turn right 31 m
4. Turn left towards Punt Rd/State Route 29 500 m
5. Turn right towards Punt Rd/State Route 29 20 m
6. Turn left onto Punt Rd/State Route 29 110 m
7. Turn left onto Brunton Ave 900 m
8. Slight left onto Jolimont Rd 500 m
9. Continue onto Wellington Parade/State Route 30 300 m
10. Slight right onto Spring St
Destination will be on the left 450 m
Distance-4.2 km

Try adding or subtracting some of the distances between the landmarks in the metric and in the imperial journeys.
Which units are the easiest to manipulate?
On which journey is it easiest to find the half way point, for instance?
I cannot believe that those of you that argue for the retention of imperial measurements don’t see from everyday examples like this how much time is wasted and unnecessary work is involved by retaining the archaic units. Imagine the cost to the nation of this time wasting being carried out every day at home, in shops and in industry.There is nothing heroic or noble about championing something that doesn’t work when something that works very well is available.

Stimpy says:
6 April 2013

That’s all screwed up – the UK measures should be (for walking distances) all in yards and not chop and change mi/ft (sounds like US software).

A yard is about the length you stride when walking at normal pace.

I agree that it’s daft but don’t you think it’s a misuse of imperial measures? And secretly do you sort of agree that yardage (with it being a stride length) actually gives you a nice ‘mind thought’ of the voyage.

Of course you could state that the same is true with metric but a metre being a ‘running length’ would be more suited to a marathon runner?

Feet/in should = height and width and Mi/yds are best for travel.

But I agree – 0.2 miles? Daft.

Cliff says:
6 April 2013

Even by substituting yards for feet and decimals of miles you would still end up with a large number of yards which would have to be translated into miles (once over 1760) to mean anything even to those people well versed in imperial units.
Why should feet and inches be used for height and width and miles and yards used for travel? They are all the same thing. They’re all measurements of distance and using one related unit it is easier to compare things spatially than using several. Like comparing apples with apples instead of apples with pears. Why make things hard for yourself when there’s a simpler and better way?

Stimpy says:
7 April 2013

I can see where you’re coming from but in all honesty people would be more used to yards just because that’s how it’s always been. I make one correction to my statement – you mentioned longer walking distances (1760 yds) – in this case (and in most GPS car systems) you’d round to quarter mile – half mile – 3/4 mile – mile – mile and a quarter (etc)

With your other point – this is a US v UK thing. They like to use feet in almost anything on roads etc. This makes one of the plus-points of imperial less handy – big numbers. I am sure US roads might have signs showing feet. This makes things as user-unfriendly as metric – i.e. “Exit 2000m” for metric and “Exit 2000ft” for US imperial. Our signs use-

miles (and fractions thereof) for distances
The vast majority of motorways exit signs usually use the format, e.g. :-

Exit name 1m
Exit name 1/2m
300yds
200yds
100yds

It’s quite consistent

With your walking example – unless you have a measuring wheel then the whole item is a bit pedantic. London has a lot of ‘time’ distances for walkers, eg Big Ben – 5 mins.

Cliff says:
7 April 2013

Stimpy,
To keep yards because “that’s how it’s always been” is not really a good enough reason to be lumbered with them..
People always lit their homes with candles or torches until the advent of electricity.
Wagons were pulled by horses or oxen before the internal combustion engine came into widespread use.
Times move on and better ways of doing things are invented. It’s progress..
The difference between the way my two journeys home are measured already demonstrates how user-unfriendly imperial units are (imperial and US customary alike) by how hard they are to manipulate. Your example of “Exit 2000m” being user-unfriendly is unwarranted. The sign would read “Exit 2 km.” I fail to see how anyone can find that user-unfriendly.
Giving distances in time rather than measurement is a cop-out by the authorities who do not use internationally recognised SI units because they are too timid to risk the wrath of militant reactionaries like the loonies from Active Resistance to Metrication and other die-hard traditionalists.

Stimpy says:
10 April 2013

I forgot to say – a yard is approx 1 second to cover making it easier to predict time.

Oh – and I’d like a nice pear please….

I can see huge efficiencies from building all cars with identical engines with a limited and fuel efficient top speed of 50mph or even 80KMH. That the limits will be the same all around the world will make it easier for people.

Whilst we are on the subject of uniformity being beneficial replacing the uniforms of the Foot Guards with combat uniforms that they already possess would be cheaper. Now I realise that some tourists might unwisely prefer to see scarlet uniforms and bearskins but they should be brought to realise that standardisation is always good.

I feel quite chastened that when I travel I find the different customs and types of shops I see, and the different cuisines one of the great attractions. Travelling in Westernised English speaking countries I find boring – but I know there are many where exercising the brain to deal with differences is an anathema.

Less tongue in cheek I really have a big problem with this discussion straying so far from the point that it is about familiarity with the Imperial system for schoolchildren who otherwise are taught metric. No big deal. It will happen eventually that as in other countries metric will be official and people will talk of poids if they want half kilos.

Peter Hargreaves says:
7 April 2013

Author: Peter Hargreaves,
Comment: Cliff
You fail to see what a system of measurement has to do with the decline in British industry? Any businessman will tell you that standardisation makes industry more efficient and a common system of measurement is a core element of standardisation?

I try to keep this debate simple and to the point without going off into a tangent, but as I have said before I use metric all the time at work as the preferred system of measurement for science, engineering and international trade and industry. Having worked in sales with the car and motorcycle industry and spent a number of years interviewing representatives of probably Britain’s greatest industry shipbuilding. I have never come across the argument that we failed because we did not standardise our system of measurement. The standardisation of engineering components in this country is largely due to the work Sir Joseph Whitworth who as you know developed the whitworth one inch screw thread. Arguably Britain’s greatest mechanical engineer. The problem is that you want everyone using one system for all needs, but lets put the argument from the customer’s point of view regarding trade. Pat Naugthin mentions centremetres rather than millimetres for the clothing trade. But of course he didn’t mention the fact that most customers prefer to work in inches. Over ninety five percent of Saville Rows overseas customers request their orders using inches. Most people prefer to measure there inside leg, waist, chest and neck in inches and this is not because there used to it and therefore prefer it. But because as I have said before the inch is a bigger and easier unit to calculate when an approximation will suffice. I like to use golf or even football as an example because it puts the competitor on the spot and offers a good comparison of how the systems compare. You do not need to know how many feet or yards in a mile. But you need to be able to make a quick assessment of your state of play. The problem with the metric system is that there is no foot to give that breakdown between the centremetre which is already less than half an inch until the metre, which would make for a trouser splitting stride. To use the term half metre or quarter metre just does not wash with players I’m afraid. The fundamental flaw in the metric system is that the foot is missing.
You will know that in the building trade (not Manufacturers) many carpenters and plumbers working on site and timbers merchants like to work with imperial measurements. Pashley bicycles Britain’s only remaining large-scale bicycle manufacturer advertise their bicycle dimensions in inches, staff at Halfords prefer to sell these using the inch. Industry should be allowed to adapt and adopt the system that best suits their own market. What I object to is having one system rigidly imposed upon all aspects of life. The point I am making about Apple is that the customer prefers the simplicity of the inch, because people prefer to work with fewer numbers. The problem with the science and engineering world is that it sees the world through a micrometer. A number of comments on this site have already mentioned nanometres and picametres. But to the man on the street this has absolutely no bearing or relevance whatsoever to their every day life. I’m afraid it is not the British people that our blinkered, but the UK Metric Association who refuse to acknowledge or offer support to people who have concerns about adapting completely to the metric system.
I do not like your comparison between Trabant motorcars and the imperial measuring system, this implies that the imperial system is broken. A more appropriate comparison would be to look at Mercedes Benz motorcars. The firm who more or less invented the motorcar produce a range of vehicles with two distinctive systems of combustion. The diesel and petrol driven automatics and manual cars. Why not produce standardisation within the firm. Why manufacture two different systems. The diesel is more efficient, economical with less moving parts. The same could be said of Apple and Microsoft why have two different operating systems? For the simple reason that neither system meets all the requirements of its customers. For work I would prefer the diesel automatic for around town, with the petrol manual for leisure. Apple computers for graphics and Microsoft for office applications. Imperial for the natural world and metric for science and engineering.
And finally! Yes the East Germans did discover BMW and Mercedes. But West Germany in turn also discovered the British car industry and in the process bought our two finest, Rolls Royce (motorcars) and Bentley. Obviously they were not put off by our two systems of measurement.

Peter – Whitworth lived in the nineteenth century. Had we been using the metric system at the time, I am confident that British Standard Whitworth nuts and bolts would not have been based on imperial sizes.

I could give you a collection of BSW spanners I inherited, because I have no use for them.

Arguments for retaining imperial measurements now make me think of drowning men and straws. 🙂

I was not aware this thread was about retaining Imperial but perhaps I misunderstand the Government’s stated policy of teaching metric but providing a familiarity with some measures that appear in British history, literature, and even biology.!

Drowning men and straws … I thought it was more.zealots arguing for a cause that is already policy but wanting it immediately. : ) And this is the only thread they can find!!

Yes – something like that. 🙂

I have already suggested that covering imperial measurements in history lessons would be appropriate. Some might find that more interesting than learning about the hardships man suffered in earlier centuries and about the horrors of war and disease.

Hi Peter,
I agree, the decline of British industry has very little do with metric, or imperial measurements. The decline of British industry was occurring well before the adoption of metric measures.
Regarding Pat Naughtin, and the centimetre, millimetre debate. Pat Naughtin who studied the metrication process in Australia, came to the conclusion that when a company converts their measurements from imperial to metric, it was the companies that used millimetres that were more successful whereas the companies that converted to centimetres where less successful in converting. In other words the inch to millimetre conversion was less costly than the inch to centimetre conversion. The main reason why the inch to millimetre was less costly is because millimetres are whole numbers and because they are small don’t generally require a decimal fraction. Whereas centimetres being 10 longer often require a decimal fraction (example 36.8 cm = 368 mm). By removing the decimal fraction there is less likelihood of errors during calculations. Also the work force accept whole numbers more readily than fractional numbers. In Australia, I was there in November, clothing is labelled in centimetres for waist, neck size etc.
I’m not sure why you think there needs to be a metric unit approximately the length of the foot. Similar to saying 12 inches we say 30 cm or 300 mm. In the building industry for example 300 mm is a very common length and multiple dimensions of 600 mm, 1200 mm, 1800 mm, and 2400 mm, are everyday lengths for any builder. The dimensions for metric wallboard is 1200 mm X 2400 mm, and the 4 ft X 8 ft wallboard or plywood although called 4 X 8 is actually 1220 mm X 2440 mm. The difference is very small but it is in metric sizes.
One of the problems for most people in the UK is that they have never fully accepted imperial or metric. This is mixed measurement situation is to the disadvantage of the younger generation who grow up in an environment of confusing mixed measures. Until one lives in a country that’s more fully metric one does not fully understand metric. It’s only when one uses metric only on a day to basis that one fully begins to understand it and use it. It’s therefore difficult for me to convince someone who uses mixed measurements that metric is better.
When using metric measures we avoid using fractions. We don’t say half metre, we say fifty centimetres or five hundred millimetres. We don’t say quarter metre, we say twenty five centimetres or two fifty millimetres. Large numbers are no problem to us, 3 or 4 or even 5 digit numbers are normal.
Last week I went to a company which builds kitchen cupboards etc, to purchase a couple of hinges. The guy said what’s the cupboard door length is it over “600”. I immediately knew that he meant millimetres, because millimetres are the ideal length in the building industry they don’t have decimal fractions.

Cliff says:
9 April 2013

Peter Hargreaves,
You say: “I do not like your comparison between Trabant motorcars and the imperial measuring system, this implies that the imperial system is broken”.
A “system” is a set of connected things or parts forming a whole. The connections between imperial measurements are so complicated and unwieldy that it’s hard to think of them being part of a “system” at all. Because it’s so hard to even recognise anything systematic about imperial measurements they are a failure so yes, they’re broken and should be replaced with something that works better.
In reference to your footnote: “But West Germany in turn also discovered the British car industry and in the process bought our two finest, Rolls Royce (motorcars) and Bentley. Obviously they were not put off by our two systems of measurement.”
Rolls Royces and Bentleys are fine cars and I would love to own one but why was it necessary for West Germany to rescue the company and make it so successful? Germans are renowned for efficiency and dumped their own version of imperial measurements way back in 1872. They wouldn’t have been put off by Britain’s two systems of measurement, they would have seen it as the first golden opportunity for improvement on a plate.

Rolls Royces and Bentleys are fine cars …
Too many litres per 100 km for my liking. 🙂

Stimpy says:
10 April 2013

litres per 100 km….. hmmm…. why couldn’t they use metres per 10 km. Sounds like a funny mix up- it certainly gave me a chuckle!

Peter Hargreaves says:
15 April 2013

Cliff, your comment:
A “system” is a set of connected things or parts forming a whole. The connections between imperial measurements are so complicated and unwieldy that it’s hard to think of them being part of a “system” at all. Because it’s so hard to even recognize anything systematic about imperial measurements they are a failure so yes, they’re broken and should be replaced with something that works better.
Decimalization successfully replaced pounds, shillings and pence because as you put it, “it offered a set of connected things or parts forming a whole” in other words it offered a set of dominations that connected and people could easily relate too, with the twenty pence piece added later to fill the gap between the ten and fifty pence piece. The same could be said for Fahrenheit versus Celsius, because both have a similar system of scale whereby one can easily replace the other. The problem with the metric system is that it does not make that connection between the centimetre and the metre. In other words the inch and the foot is missing.
As I have said before you need to separate engineering and science from the natural world. If we were all singing from the same hymn sheet there would be no debate. I am merely expressing the viewpoint from the other half of the population, who have neither the inclination or the desire to use a system that they cannot relate to with their natural environment.
Getting back to the core point of this debate and why imperial is to be brought back into our education system. It is stop the uncertainty and confusion that exists at the moment. Several people on this website have already mentioned that the imperial system should be confined to history. I have two young children at primary school, I am fully in tune and aware of the school curriculum. But I don’t want my children coming home from school and asking why the Victorians built bridges, railways and ships using metres or centimetres. When of course they should be written in feet and inches. They grow up in a culture where imperial measurements are around them in art, literature, hobbies and sport. What they need at this level is a very basic understanding of how the system works.
Your other comment: “Bad government is very relevant. The lack of leadership to finish the job of metric changeover by the many governments that have been in power since it began in 1965 is scandalous. This problem has festered because cowardly politicians have continually swept it under the carpet or pandered to traditionalists and the tabloid press in order to keep their votes.”
The reason this change over was never successfully completed in 1965, is not because of cowardly politicians, but because the leading industrialists warned the government of the day, that nothing would happen for fifty years. When you are employing bright young apprentices brought up and programmed to use imperial, they are not going to be able to suddenly adapt to a new system. It is not the job of industry to teach the basics. Industry dictates the terms because they’re paying the wages. Change will have to wait until the next generation, enter the labour market and that intake from 1965 retires. Most university students I have spoken to are fully proficient with the metric system, but for their own human dimensions they prefer to quote imperial. They are making “that connection” on an informed choice and using the best of both systems.

Alex B says:
15 April 2013

You know what, I read some of these replies and I just don’t believe the logic behind them.

“The problem with the metric system is that it does not make that connection between the centimetre and the metre. In other words the inch and the foot is missing.”

Why are the inch and foot missing? There are measurements that sit between the foot/yard and the mile but you never hear even the older generation speaking of how many rods or chains there are between here and the corner shop so why on earth do we need the inch and foot? You talk about the natural environment but how many people’s feet are “one foot”? Why is it any harder to describe something as being a few metres instead of 10 feet? You don’t need accuracy in every day speech (much in the same way as “yards” on roads are actually metres in many cases these days)

“I have two young children at primary school, I am fully in tune and aware of the school curriculum. But I don’t want my children coming home from school and asking why the Victorians built bridges, railways and ships using metres or centimetres. When of course they should be written in feet and inches. They grow up in a culture where imperial measurements are around them in art, literature, hobbies and sport. What they need at this level is a very basic understanding of how the system works.”

The problem here is perspective… why shouldn’t children learn about the size of Victorian buildings in metric? We don’t insist on them talking about those structures in Victorian English do we? If it becomes relevant you teach the children that back in those days a different measurement “system” was used but we now use a better one and if they want to learn about it point them in the direction of an encyclopaedia.

The reason why imperial measures remain in arts and culture is because of the lack of momentum in the metrication process. Just teach metric in schools, insist that businesses comply with existing weights and measures legislation (the spirit as well as the letter of the law) so that everything is advertised in metric and soon imperial would cease to be a problem. By continuing to teach imperial as a mainstream subject we perpetuate it’s use.

I think I already said it before… I don’t have to speak Italian to order pizza or German to buy a new VW so why should I be ridiculed when I don’t speak Roman when measuring my living room. This government is making hard and unpopular choices about the economy because they believe it’s in the best interest of the country, why can’t they do the same and dump imperial measures for once and for all? Education is where it all starts and ends.

Hey, “Wavechange”. If you’ve got a load of BSW spanners you don’t want, I’ll give you an offer for them! I may be an advocate of metric, but I also have a 1963 Triumph 350cc motorcycle that was engineered in imperial units, and uses BSW hex bolts. So I do have a use for your old spanners! Email me steve at stoneship dot org dot uk if interested in getting rid of them!

Stimpy says:
22 April 2013

@Axel B

Do you REALLY get ridiculed for (one assumes) using ft/in as room sizes?
Putting aside that estate sell their houses that way, are you honestly saying that people giggle or put you down for mentioning imperial?

Wow – I’m hitting the stand-up scene!…..

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Stimpy H Wildebeest ….

“Hi everyone, I’m 5 ft 11 in”

“You’ve been a great audience… g’night”

I think that, along with yard signs “actually being in metric behind the scenes”. Funny.

Alex B says:
22 April 2013

@Stimpy

No, I get ridiculed for using metric.

When my sports team were recently ordering new tracksuits and I quoted my size in metric (along with another team mate also in his 40’s) one of the younger (20’s) guys on the team said “Listen to the old guys talking metric”.

When asking a local market trader if he could provide a price for a product in kg because he’d (illegally) only priced it in lbs I got asked if I was from the local trading standards office and was told to speak English.

I’m 1.75m tall and weigh about 78kg. My car is 1.9m wide, 4.5m long and weighs about 950kg. It has a fuel tank capacity of 58 litres. I couldn’t tell you any of these things in imperial measures and in a country which is supposed to be legally metric I shouldn’t have to… nor should I be ridiculed or hindered for using units of measure that I learned at a school funded by my parents taxes.

As to “behind the scenes” metrication of road signs, may I quote you from one paragraph of the DfT Traffic Signs Manual, in this case Chapter 8 Paragraph D4.4.8 (Page 83):

“In this Chapter, siting distances are specified in metres and miles. However the Regulations require that all distances and speed limits are displayed in imperial units and accordingly these are shown as “yds” (yards), “miles” and “mph” (miles per hour).”

Followed shortly by:

“e.g. the 400 yards wicket signs being placed at 400 m.”

This is just one example. Not so funny now is it?

Stimpy says:
23 April 2013

@Axel b
Do this:
Drive down a motorway of your choice (or large A road).
Note the sticks that are alongside the motorway – either the new blue ones or the old white ones.
These are placed 100 mtrs apart and are used by rescue staff.
Here’s the clincher though – come up to a junction and when you get to the 3 -2 -1 boards note the placement of the 100 mtr sticks. Take a hanky with you.

Also – they tried putting up metric ‘slipery road’ signs in metric ie 200 m. Due to legal reasons they all got changed. To 220 yds. Eh? where did that ‘2’ come from?

You will find DoT material as mixed up and badly written as any other govt document. There are a few docs around. Some have ridiculous conversion accuracy. However – 200 yds means 200 yds. How do I know? I sent an email to Wycombe council about a bus-lane sign saying metres. They replaced the sign and I can tell you the new sign was VERY different.
Also – the policy of placing temporary 600yd 400yd 200yd signs can be down to how the placer paces the distance! However the use of fixed ‘countdown’ signs (eg to a traffic light) is ‘real yards’

It should be easy for you to test. Using GPS or your milometer (if it shows tenths) drive slowly between ’00 yd signs. Or you could even set your GPS to metric to see what lines up. I suggest night time when you can drive real slow. 800 yds is VERY different to 800 mtr.

Anyhow – I’m more concerned about your treatment with a trader when you asked for KG. Any trader who ridicules people for using metric is bang out of order. It’s your choice. Otherwise walk away – no sale. I find the arrogant remarks about buying something in KG, a legal choice, abhorrent – in much the same way as DoT forms mix up ‘real yards’ and ‘false yards’.
With the street trader who tried to ridicule you, do the powerful thing that we all possess. The ability to walk away (with one less sale for Mr Rude)

Stimpy says:
23 April 2013

P.S. I can search out the ‘yards are yards’ DoT doc if you want.

What is a pound? It is legally defined as exactly 0.45359237 kilograms. What is a kilogram? It is a platinum-iridium cylinder in a vault in a labortatory on international territory just outside Paris. Where was that cylinder made? In England in 1889! Who is in charge of the laboratory? An Englishman! So what is foreign about the kilogram?

The driver location signs on English (but not Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish) motorways give distances from a notional start point in kilometres. They are the blue signs with yellow text at regular intervals (usually 500 metres) that have been erected in the past few years.

Stimpy says:
24 April 2013

Martin – I don’t get your point about things being English etc. That sounds almost xenophobic under the guise of “Hey look at the metric system, it’s not French it was British and we call it ‘Systeme Internationale’ cos it sounds all nice and frenchy

Stimpy says:
24 April 2013

You should add that the signs are not meant for ‘driver consumption’. Drivers should be looking at direction signs and distances to places as well as the road etc. Almost all people do not know what those little signs mean – until they break down and use a motorway side phone.

Alex B says:
29 April 2013

@stimpy… I’m well aware of the marker posts at 100m intervals, and despite what you say I can also give several examples of places on both motorways and A roads where the exit count down markers are placed at 100m intervals too; it really depends on when they were placed and who by, the rules allow a 10% variance so both are considered legal (in fact I don’t believe any distance is required on A roads so long as the distance between the markers is consistent).

As for the “slippery road” signs there are many examples where m have been used instead of yds likely because the authorities in question were forward thinking, however they would have to be changed because the metric ones are still illegal. Oddly though, the same 10% allowance still applies so replacing a 200 m sign with 200 yds would still be a perfectly valid thing to do and lets face it nobody driving a car would be able to tell the difference. After all, how can you tell you’ve driven 200 yards when your odometer is marked in miles? How many 1/10 of a mile is 200 yards? If it was a metric odometer it would be easy… n.2 km is 200 metres.

Oh… while I think about it I also know many locations where 1/2 mile signs are actually placed 1/2 km from a junction, you can tell because the sign and the junction start are alligned with the 100 m marker posts 🙂

And while on the subject of marker posts, there are crossing points on the A14 in Northamptonshire. The signs warning drivers of these state “400 yds” but oddly enough the signs on either side of the A14 and the gap in the central barrier are exactly 400 metres apart. Confirmed again with the 100 m marker posts.

Oh and drive through some roadworks on a motorway sometime (they’re not too hard to find). Notice the 800m, 400m and 200m signs will usually be placed right next to the marker posts. You might also notice that the taper on lane closures (where they place the bollards across the road) will usually be aligned with the marker posts too.

All road signs are specified in metric, road markings are done in metric, roads are designed and built in metric, cars are designed and built in metric, it’s only the DfT that are mixed up enough that they insist on proliferation of yards everywhere. They missed an opportunity to make metric mandatory on width and height signs during the last change in regulations despite the fact that actual cost of doing so would be negligible.

And the excuse for not changing the signs (until recently) was because of education.

What I really don’t understand is that despite being one of only 2 developed/educated countries on the planet that still insist on using imperial measures on the roads that we are the only one that actually bans metric signs (yes, despite the fact they’re not often seen, metric signs are completely legal in the USA if anybody wishes to put them up!!!)

Stimpy says:
29 April 2013

@AlexB – You seem to flip between ‘Metric-forcer’ to ‘well it’s close enough, what the heck’
Some quick points to your points, having worked on the PNC (police/traffic and more but cannot divulge i hope you understand).
On motorways the 3-2-1 boards ARE yards x100 each. To be semi pedantic – if it was ‘casual metric’ then we’d be out by 30 yards – that’s quite a distance. For smaller distances it really doesn’t matter – if it says yds then assume mtrs (not ‘m’) – you’re not going to crash. Drive a ‘Luton van’ from from the 90’s – they use km based ..erm.. mileometers. But even that – drive @ 30 mph or even less – you would prob not even notice either way.

You are correct regarding A-roads. Let me give you an example. In Cefn Crwbbr there is a non-gated railway crossing. It’s a 30 mph roads and the crossing is around a corner. The ‘3-2-1’ markers are probably 50feet apart. Non motorways DO have variance to the count-down as you say.

The slippery road thing was a mistake on all the signs in Maidenhead. They all had to be re-signed.

Comment: “After all, how can you tell you’ve driven 200 yards when your odometer is marked in miles? How many 1/10 of a mile is 200 yards?”
– Who would ever bring that up except a metric pusher? Who cares? If you can find a speedo with .xx on it see if any metric country comments in the same way. You don’t often find people mix miles and yards – but you do see decimal miles sometimes. It’s quite flexible.

As for 1/2m sign being 1/2km – please! have you worked out how false that would be?

Fixed 800,600,400,200 yard markers are in yards. Temporary ones are far less accurate.

“that actual cost of doing so would be negligible.” C’mon – if the govt did that while cutting benefits and being all ‘austere’ I suspect there would be some fury.

Your last part is interesting.
Obviously I would say the cost is too great, and being liberation I’d ask how many people would want the change even if it was free. Have you heard of roadsign hostility anywhere (except oddities in forums)?
Also – being libertarian – I tend to agree with your CORRECT statement about imperial sign enforcement. I’d still base that on the demand though.
By hi-lighting the ‘imperial enforcement’ you seem to conflict with ‘it’s all metric, despite the evidence’ stuff.

You just hate imperial measures. Which is your choice.

Alex B says:
30 April 2013

@stimpy no you’ve misunderstood me. What I have always said here is that metric should be mandated for all official use – all goods should be sold in metric and the use of supplementary imperial pricing should be phased out. Weather forecasters should stop mentioning Fahrenheit temperatures and inches in rain and snow fall, office and factory space should only be advertised in square metres and not square feet (it is, after all, legally required that sales be by the square metre anyway, the same as the fact that despite land still being advertised in acres all legal documents have to be in hectares as the acre is no longer a legal unit of measure in the UK). What we should never legislate for though is how people speak… as I already mentioned in my response with regard to currency the language of imperial will remain but once metric is used “officially” it will die out. Shakespeare’s “pound of flesh” and other cultural references can’t and should not be metricated though, that’s just stupid.

As to the question of the use of metric “behind the scenes” on the roads I stand by what I say, I can only comment on what I have read in official documents and what I observe on a daily basis… if you really want to know the countdown markers that are 100m apart are on the M6 in Warwickshire and the 1/2 mile sign which is actually 500 metres from the junction is on the A1 at Stamford in Lincolnshire. I pass the latter on an almost daily basis and double checked my facts prior to my last post. And I have seen incorrectly erected “metre” signs plated over with “yds” without the number being altered. I’ve also noted the increase in “new” junctions sign posted at 1 1/2 miles and 3/4 mile, which co-incidentally happen to be near enough to 2km and 1km to make little difference.

And as to the cost of conversion of road signs… it has been stated again and again that with proper planning the conversion of everything other than speed limits should cost little or nothing, if imperial signs are replaced with metric ones at the end of their useful lifetime there is no reason why almost full metrication could not be achieved on our roads (again, not including speed limits) in 10-15 years. All that is required is a change in the law to allow (or more precisely, require) metric on new signs. The simple fact is this would actually save the country money… think about all the money that would not be required to teach children to convert between metric and imperial and the amount that would not be wasted on teaching a system of measures that isn’t being used properly.

I will admit my dislike of imperial measures… probably because I was educated entirely in metric and my parents had the forethought to ensure my education was reinforced in the home. I find imperial measures cumbersome, messy, outdated and quite frankly not fit for purpose. To me they symbolise a country that refuses to move with the times. Too many people see keeping imperial measures as being about retaining our culture and identity, I see it as turning what could be a great country into a museum.

Stimpy says:
1 May 2013

@AlexB – I was ‘schooled’ in metric and have a total opposite view of yours. Almost.

A couple of things:-
Do the maths re: 1/2m being 500mts. It’s daft

Fahrenheit in weather – now, this raises a funny side effect.
On the BBC local radio you would hear someone ending the like “10 Celsius – that’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit – here’s with the traffic issues [traffic details start”

Not very interesting as that stands but here’s the funny part… All radios are capable of TA which temporarily changes the channel for the road situation. They obviously hit a button at Radio to cause people’s cars to change channel for the traffic. The bit I like is that the ‘button’ is hit just before the traffic news so you’ll suddenly hear “..that’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit – here’s the …etc” I can imagine that grinding the ‘force-different-numbers brigade’

Alex B says:
1 May 2013

@stimpy you really are hard work…

“A couple of things:-
Do the maths re: 1/2m being 500mts. It’s daft”

I will say again, it is nothing to do with maths, it is to do with observation of the real world. Want to play a little game? Open Google Earth and go to the co-ordinates Lat 52.6483 Lon -0.5875, zoom in with street view and you will see the exit sign on the northbound sign that reads “1/2 m”. Zoom back out and use the measuring tool to see the distance between that sign and the next junction. If you measure to the start of the slip road it is less that 500 metres, to the end it is just a little over 650 metres. Switch to miles and you will see it is between 0.3 and 0.4. So, half a mile? I think not.

I’m not saying that the sign’s positioning is correct, what I am pointing out is that it is actually at a 0.5 km distance from the junction and nobody seems to have noticed or cared… it also doesn’t seem to have caused any safety concerns.

Stimpy says:
2 May 2013

@AlexB – you’re not exactly ‘easy’ (so to speak) 🙂

You’re quite persistent and I think you have a point but that’s a hell of a miss-conversion.

When I use the m/way (or d/carriage-ways) the accuracy of the standard 1m then 1/2m then 3-2-1 is important to me.

When I get near to the junction I need to get off at – the road turns from a few cars and a lorry to many extra cars, coaches and foreign lorries all clustered around me with missus volvo stuck in the middle lane as if it belonged to her. If there’s a “motorway God” then I don’t think he likes me. Anyway – point being – I use 1 mile as 1 minute to plan the great escape (the speedo might read 70mph – which in reality is more like 64 mph due to tolerance rules and car manufacturers being over cautious). At half mile I have 30 seconds to ‘land’. If the traffic is busy but speedy I will drift into the driving lane (lane 1) at this point. Then it’s 3-2-1 – slip road – red bl@@dy light.

I honestly use that system (only for junctions, obviously) – ie it’s a mile for each minute.
OF course you could do this in metric but you’d have to think up a metrified 100sec minute or go real slow to do it as I said.

I’m sure that the mile=minute is coincidence rather than deliberate design!

Alex B says:
8 April 2013

I think some of the posters here are, by the very nature of their personal preferences, are missing a lot of the points. Regardless of how people want to measure in their own homes and in conversation there are some very good reasons why a single standard should be legally enforced in education, business and safety applications.

First of all a single standard ensures everybody knows what’s going on. So you may think it’s ok for the British cycle company to make their product in inches but it does really limit them when people in metric-only countries have to buy a separate tool set to maintain them, this is what did so much damage to the British car industry as the Commonwealth went metric. The same applies within industry, a country producing large scale items isn’t going to be interested in buying components from a small British engineering firm who insist on using inches only, even if they agree to produce in metric they’re still going to be undercut by the small French or Belgian company who already do metric as standard. The only exception to this seems to be Boeing who can get away with insisting on imperial purely because of their size.

High street shops should be the same. Joe Public should be confident that they can buy everything using the same measurement standards. How the hell am I supposed to figure out how much its going to cost to carpet my new house when the estate agent quotes room sizes in feet but carpet is sold by the square metre? What’s the point behind continuing to advertise office space by the square foot and land by the acre when the law mandates the square metre and hectares? Why should I be made to feel like an outcast when I want my local market trader or small butcher to display prices in kg so I can compare their prices with the local supermarket?

Frankly weights and measures in trade, industry and safety are something that can and should be forced on us by law regardless of people’s emotions on the matter. Imperial should also not be taught in schools in any shape or form… except perhaps from a historical perspective. Using imperial in speech would continue but would gradually die out like the use of shillings and the like have in recent decades. At the end of the day very few people would mourn it’s passing once they were truly used to using metric.

If you still think you should have a choice then think… surely you’d be upset if you had to speak Italian to order a pizza or Turkish to buy a kebab? We expect those we trade with to speak a single language so why should units of measure be any different?

Stimpy says:
24 April 2013

I love the ‘imperial will die off’ stuff! How many generations do you need?!?!?! lol

Obviously all the discussion about metric vs imperial provides some useful background. As Dieseltaylor has pointed out recently, this Conversation is intended to be about the reintroduction of teaching imperial units in schools. He is not the first to remind us of this point.

Does anyone have any detailed information about what is to be done and when this will happen?

Michael Grove was born in 1967. In 1968 the UK’s educationalist debated how best to integrate the metric system, into the school syllabus. Since Grove was in his nappies at the time, he obviously never took part in the debate. In 1973, about the time that Grove was learning his “ABC”, the first all-metric “A” Level exams were taken. The result of removing imperial units from the syllabus was that children had an extra six months (or about 10% of the time that they spent at junior school) to devote to other subjects.

I suspect that Grove failed to engage brain (or advisors) before he opened his mouth – unlike older ministers, he could not have relied on his own experience. If this is the case, then don’t hold your breath about any changes – Grove is probably hoping that the issue will stay submerged until he is moved to another post.

Stimpy says:
10 April 2013

Is he REALLY that age? You’ve made me unhappy. A curse on your millimetres!

I have taken the trouble to speak to a primary teacher of 35 years who retired a couple of years ago. He taught in Inner and Outer London schools. His wife until her retirment was a deputy head of a primary school.

He tells me that there are 8 maths books and the amount on imperial is around a couple of pages per book. Interestingly his top maths class actually found pounds ,shillings, and pence highly amusing. Now this was not needed to be taught but bright kids can handle the delights of finding out how things used to be. And of course playing with figures teaches a better familiarity. Rather like once you learn a language the chances are that learning another language is easier.

My sister-in-law lives and teaches in Hampshire secondary school where she covers Level 2 [Primary remedial] to GCSE A Star. When they start most of her intake have no knowledge of Imperial measures though they need to learn basic conversion for Mass , length , and Volume during secondary schooling. Unfortunately with mixed abilities those at the bottom of the heap will fail to understand much any way and those above D level will be fine. The conversions are like how many kilometres to miles is not overly taxing. Talking of length she said that given questions from students like how big is a millimetre explaining how big a foot is becomes very easy.

Her view is that knowing Imperial conversions is a good thing as it another set of base units and certainly no problem for higher groups – and she rather wishes binary was also taught for low level programming.

If I have brought more light than wind to the proceedings I apologise. Perhaps some other teacher views … preferably in maths subjects and from the UK rather than Australia could be posted.

Peter Hargreaves says:
23 April 2013

Author: Peter Hargreaves
Comment: Alex B

“Frankly weights and measures in trade, industry and safety are something that can and should be forced on us by law regardless of people’s emotions on the matter. Imperial should also not be taught in schools in any shape or form… except perhaps from a historical perspective.”
“If it becomes relevant you teach the children that back in those days a different measurement “system” was used but we now use a better one and if they want to learn about it point them in the direction of an encyclopedia”.

I strongly disagree with you on this, I have given several talks to primary school children and when you quote metric you are confronted with a look of confusion. Why did they make things to that size? It is the same when discussing the wage a labourer would earn in comparison to a craftsman. You explain briefly the breakdown of pounds, shillings and pence compared to decimalization. At this age their brains are like a sponge, they will soak up this information and find it fun. When they go into secondary school and study history more in depth, they will already have an understanding of how are ancestors worked. This helps them later on in life. I don’t think anyone is disputing this. Most people on this site have already said that imperial should be consigned to history. What I have highlighted is the fact that it is not.
There are many instances where we still use two systems even though one system is generally better for most applications. One of the most difficult things for children to grasp at primary level is time. Have you ever tried to teach children the time? They are confronted with analogue and digital clocks. Arabic numbering on clocks at school and the work place are easy enough to read, but when the child comes home, he finds that all the clocks around the house are in roman numerals. In Australia children learn mandarin as a second language because of the increasing amount of trade with China. This takes up a huge amount of the school curriculum and a number of even the brightest pupils drop out because of the complexities of the language and the alphabet.
If you want one measuring system because it is confusing and you think one system would be much better. Do we therefore banish roman numerals on timepieces and publishers stops using them in numerous publications. As Mandarin is spoken by more people in the world than any other language, do all the trading nations of the world learn mandarin to help breakdown the barriers in communication?
Finally, with reference to your comment about “ordering new tracksuits and quoting your size in metric.” Over a hundred employees at our firm where recently asked to order new uniforms and were given a choice of sizes in imperial only. No one queried this because it is generally accepted that the inch is ingrained in our culture when it comes to clothing items. As I mentioned earlier over ninety-five percent of Saville Rows customers make orders in imperial and that includes overseas customers. There are some situations when imperial measurements are in fact easier to use and this is one of them.

Alex B says:
29 April 2013

@Peter Hargreaves yes, primary school children are like sponges… they will take in any old rubbish you give them, hence why this is the ideal time to ensure imperial measures are NOT taught. It might seem like fun but by the time you’ve indoctrinated them with imperial measures they will remember them. As to confusion, the fact that they lived with parents who used imperial for the formative years of their lives won’t help – if you make metric mandatory in all trade then eventually the parents will start to talk in metric and primary children won’t be confused by this “new fangled thing” that they’ve never heard before.

What it all comes down to is that we can’t rely on imperial dying out and by propagating it through education at such an early age it will never die out. I will repeat my example of decimalisation of the currency, we hardly ever hear people speak of shillings or florins now in the same way as we hardly ever hear rods, chains, perches and the like, because they’re no longer legally recognised in trade and retail.

I entirely agree with what you say with regard to teaching the time though. Analogue and digital clocks don’t help and quite frankly roman numerals just make matters worse. And by the time you add 12 and 24 hour clocks you’re just asking for trouble. Dates are the same… 29 April 2013, April 29th 2013, 29/4/13, 29/4/2013 and then throw in the ever increasing North American influence and add 4/29/2013. Forget the attempts to create a global standard with 2013-04-29 because this probably isn’t taught in schools either.

When you start talking about standardising language you’re just being daft though. There are too many diverse languages to expect the whole world to standardise, that isn’t the case with measurement where there is only really one predominant system and a hotch-potch maintained by two countries who’s peoples are too stuck in their ways to do what’s best.

Stimpy says:
29 April 2013

@AlexB Have you ever thought that imperial is around due to popularity? Metric is there on offer but to make Brits use it you have to force them. And it’s not ‘because of America’ – they don’t know what a stone is.

Imperial cannot die out like pounds shillings an pence because you accidentally treat both as a measuring system. You simply cannot pay for something in LSD whereas language and usage supports our fondness for imperial.

@Stimpy Both Imperial measures and metric measures are forced measurements. For example, Imperial measurements are forced on us when we see road signs, and metric measurements are forced on us when we purchase petrol.

The mixed measurement situation is divisive. It diivides this country, and arguably more than any other country, it divides the community, society, and the nation. It is unneeded, unwanted, and makes this country look backward, instead of forward, it makes this country weaker not stronger. Mr Grove has plans to widen this divide, and make it worse by forcing teachers to teach Imperial measures, which many teachers themselves do not fully understand, to our future, our next generation, the young people of today. And politicans wonder why we are in decline.

Regarding the popularity of Imperial measures. Is the gallon popular at the petrol pump? No, because they are not there, only litres. There is no choice or option. The popularity of Imperial measures only occurs, because people are given a choice, and a misguided policy by this government, and past governments that metric measures, would be voluntary accepted by the public. As long as there is dual labeling, and Imperial measures like road signs, the change to metric measures by the public will be slow. But the change to metric measures, although slow, will occur. It is because of the short sighted, politicly motivated reasons by Mr Grove and his government that they cant see a metric future. A metric future that is inevitable.

Alex B says:
30 April 2013

@stimpy imperial is not around purely because it is “popular”, it is still around because businesses are allowed to continue using it. Spending a lot of my time living and working with Americans (and Canadians) I am well aware of the cultural issues surrounding the use of “imperial”, I have also observed that Canadian attempts to metricate have been severely stalled by the cultural influence of their southern neighbours.

And yes I agree that Imperial will not just die out, but the reasoning is more complex. When we switched to decimal currency we retained some of the old coinage and some of the older generation at the time also retained some of the old language… I recall growing up in the 1970’s being given “a few shillings” by my grandparents but having no idea what they meant other than I had a few 5p coins. In the same way if metric usage were enforced in all official use the language there would gradually change.

You are of course entitled to your view – the last paragraph as originally posted and received by thread e-mail here – but missing from the version now shown on the Which? site:

“I will admit my dislike of imperial measures… probably because I was educated entirely in metric and my parents had the forethought to ensure my education was reinforced in the home. I find imperial measures cumbersome, messy, outdated and quite frankly not fit for purpose. To me they symbolise a country that refuses to move with the times. Too many people see keeping imperial measures as being about retaining our culture and identity, I see it as turning what could be a great country into a museum.”

As I say you are entitled to a view and I see no point in arguing the toss on whether the UK is becoming a museum as palpably it is not. Being the basis of the argument for enforcing change I think the case fails. I am happy for a gradual change and the continuation of the cultural connection.

What is interesting is the partial display of your original post on the thread.

Alex B says:
30 April 2013

@dieseltaylor you probably missed the fact I posted 2 replies here… but in any case a lot of why we’re in the position we’re in is precisely because of the “gradual change” mentality. We can’t expect things to change on their own, if we do people will continue to operate the way they believe is best, that gets propagated to the next generation and change will never happen.

Education is the first step in this, moving to exclusively metric education in the 1970’s was a good move but just expecting education to be the driving force for change is the wrong attitude, it needs to be re-inforced in the real world, metrication will only move forward when imperial measures in daily are the exception and not the rule.

Hmmm I and you disagree with gradual change . So be it. Of course the flexibility of young minds in dealing in base 12 aswell as base 10 seems to be an argument to be avoided. I wonder why.

I can do both equally easily so perhaps I do not see it as a problem. Being schooled in the UK and Canada perhaps gave me greater facility than most with figures.

BTW what happened to your previous edited post? Did you do it or did Which?

Gradual change isn’t working. Some supermarkets are now showing imperial as well as metric measures and now we have the Government wanting to go backwards.

Though I can use imperial measures I have started to avoid doing so unless some older person is genuinely confused.

Let’s push for rapid change – and move forward.

Stimpy says:
1 May 2013

You’ve got to teach kids units that are of huge use. It’s unfair not to

Stimpy says:
1 May 2013

“some older person is genuinely confused.”

LOL