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How Do We Measure Up?

picture of ruler

A family member called recently to ask my help in converting a measurement for some flooring they were getting ready to do. On the packaging the manufacturer had put the measurement in inches, rather than metric. That would have been helpful, had it not read 11.42 inches! Over the phone and through websites with conversion tables, we tried to figure out the closest fraction of an inch, rather than decimal of an inch. Crazy, huh?!

A reader sent me a picture of a sign that struck him funny in a grocery store:

picture of sign in grocery store

I wrote him back to say I wasn't able to read everything on the sign and so I wasn't sure what he was amused by. He wrote back to say that he found it amusing to say that they had 16 oz. pound cakes. If you live in a country that uses metric measurements, you might not get the humor in that (16 ounces = 1 pound).

Recently I came across a map of how Americans seem to view the world:

picture of world map

I also saw this map that shows how most of the world sees America:

picture of world map

With all of the preceding in mind, I remembered a classic iv that really should be part of my blog archives.

Useful Conversion Units:

2000 mockingbirds = two kilomockingbirds

Ratio of an igloo's circumference to its diameter = Eskimo Pi

2000 pounds of Chinese soup = Won ton

1 millionth mouthwash = 1 microscope

2.4 statute miles of intravenous surgical tubing at Yale University Hospital = 1 I.V. League

Speed of a tortoise breaking the sound barrier = Mach Turtle

Time it takes to sail 220 yards at 1 nautical mile per hour = Knot-furlong

16.5 feet in the Twilight Zone = 1 Rod Serling

1000 aches = 1 megahurts

Basic unit of laryngitis = 1 hoarsepower

Shortest distance between two jokes = A straight line

Time between slipping on a peel and smacking the pavement = bananosecond

Time it takes to sail 220 yards at 1 nautical mile per hour = Knot-furlong

Given the old adage "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," the first step of a one-mile journey = 1 Milwaukee

1 million microphones = 1 phone

1 trillion microphones = 1 megaphone

1 million bicycles = 2 megacycles

365.25 days = 1 unicycle

the weight of 1 TV evangelist = 1 billigram

10 cards = 1 decacards

2 snake eyes = 1 paradise

453.6 graham crackers = 1 pound cake

Half of a large intestine = 1 semicolon

1 kilogram of falling figs = 1 Fig Newton

1000 grams of wet socks = 1 literhosen

1 millionth of a fish = 1 microfiche

1 trillion pins = 1 terrapin

100 tics = 1 hectic

500 millinaries = 1 seminary

1000 female sheep = 1 milieu

10 rations = 1 decoration

100 rations = 1 C-ration

10 millipedes = 1 centipede

3 1/3 tridents = 1 decadent

10 monologs = 5 dialogs

5 dialogs = 1 decalog

2 monograms = 1 diagram

8 nickels = 2 paradigms

2 doctors = 1 paradox

2 wharves = 1 paradox

4 lawyers = 2 paralegals

2 untruths = 1 paralyze

33.8 oz of a case of soft drinks = 1 liter of the pack

100 Senators = Not 1 good decision

If the metric system did ever catch on in America, some well known clichรฉs would take a real beating!

    A miss is as good as 1.6 kilometers.
    Put your best 0.3 of a meter forward.
    Spare the 5.03 meters and spoil the child.
    Twenty-eight grams of prevention is worth 453 grams of cure.
    Peter Piper picked 8.8 liters of pickled peppers.
    Give a man 2.5 centimeters and he'll take 1.6 kilometers.

I know that there are people all over the world who read my blog — from over 150 different countries this month! What are your thoughts on the metric system vs. the English system? I think it's interesting that the Brits use the metric system but still talk in their old English system that we Americans cling to. I have to teach my students some things about the metric system since all francophone countries use it and therefore it comes up frequently in materials we read and discuss.


"Good things and good people can crowd God out of your life." - Tom Coleman

=^..^= =^..^=

A gross ignoramus is 144 times worse than an ordinary ignoramus.

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22 Comments on “How Do We Measure Up?”

  1. #1 David Rodger
    on Mar 29th, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Since being ticked off with the Brits precipitated the Revolution, one thinks Americans would have wanted to junk imperial measurements as soon as possible!

  2. #2 Terry Egolf
    on Mar 29th, 2010 at 7:00 am

    As a science textbook author, I REALLY wish we (the US) would convert over to the real SI system (not just expressing a US customary unit in metric). It would make things so much easier. For instance, we wouldn’t have to give a dimension, like the diameter of the earth, in both English and metric units.

  3. #3 Tawnja
    on Mar 29th, 2010 at 7:13 am

    After growing up in a metric-using country, it was quite difficult to switch to the American system. I still remember having to teach all the equivalents to my upper elementary students – so many yards in a mile, so many ounces in a cup, etc. The only thing you could do is just memorize it – no rhyme or reason to help you in remembering!

    The American and British systems are not quite the same. If I remember correctly, the British liquid ounce and the American liquid ounce are not the same amount. Also, the British still use measurements such as “stone” for weight.
    And I recently bought a “pound” cake that weighed 10.75 oz. =)

  4. #4 Eileen
    on Mar 29th, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Growing up with metric, I must say I’m partial to it as well. Sure makes math class a lot easier! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. #5 Michael
    on Mar 29th, 2010 at 8:14 am

    I say let’s convert to metric. I know that throws away something that makes us unique as Americans, but it would make life so much easier. It’s difficult to make conversions with our system. Sometimes when my wife is baking things she’ll ask something like “how many cups are in a quart?” I have to stop and think before I can help her out. It’s also difficult to work with linear measurement. Take 38 9/16 inches and divide into thirds. Painful.

  6. #6 Vikki
    on Mar 29th, 2010 at 8:40 am

    I might be wrong, but I believe I heard that English carpenters prefer using a good old tape measure with inches on it when measuring. Please, can anyone shed some light on this for me?

  7. #7 Dan Olinger
    on Mar 29th, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Serling. Rod Serling. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. #8 Kathleen
    on Mar 29th, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Living in Scotland, I can function in either system (except outside temperatures, I’m fine in metric when cooking…), though I prefer the American. I think most people over here tend to prefer the imperial system, though the government is trying to push the metric system more. At least the road signs are still in miles…

    11.42 inches is precisely 29.0068 centimeters. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Also, I don’t see the UK on your map of how Americans view the rest of the world. Do most not even know it exists? I know that some people don’t realize that yes, they actually do speak English over here!

    @Tawnja – the liquid ounces are the same, the difference is in pints. A British pint is 20 fl. oz.

    @Vikki – most measuring tapes sold here have both metric and imperial measurements. I don’t know which side is used more frequently, though.

  9. #9 Carrie
    on Mar 29th, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    My favorites are the bananosecond, the graham cracker/pound cake, and the 100 senators. I also loved the maps. The first one reminds me of Uncle Jay. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I think we should switch to metric. Like Michael said, it is a uniquely American, but that’s one thing that could go out the window as far as I’m concerned. It makes so little sense.

    If the UN gets its way (ahem), we probably won’t have a choice at some time in the future.

  10. #10 Jenni
    on Mar 29th, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Read your post this morning, then later was ordering chenille stems (pipe cleaners) for a customer. The width is measured in mm, but length is measured in inches. How’s that for some confusion! 6mm x 12″

  11. #11 A.H.
    on Mar 29th, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    I realize that the metric system has some benefits (in science); however, I prefer our system. I hope we never give it up!

    @Carrie – Article 1, Section 8, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the right to fix a standard system of weights and measures.

  12. #12 Heather
    on Mar 29th, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    I had a one-year stint in a framing shop. Putting picture frames together of course required making accurate measurements; everything had to be cut evenly and centered exactly, and I’m not sure the metric system would have made it any easier. I discovered that it wasn’t necessary to find the exact center of 19 and 11/16 inches. 9 and 7/8 inches was close enough and then some; at times I could be off by an entire 1/4 inch and not even a practiced eye could tell the difference. I learned the practicality of estimation, though I realize there are many fields in which absolute precision is required. So in my experience, though the metric seems easier, it isn’t necessarily better.

  13. #13 Rob
    on Mar 29th, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    @David – The metric system wasn’t around at the time of the American Revolution (1776). It was first adopted in France in 1791, shortly after their Revolution.

    @Terry – My wife and I were talking today about all the money our government spent back in the 70s, we think, to make metric road signs, etc. in an attempt to move our country to the SI. Why didn’t they go through with it? One of my favorite signs at that time read something like “Metric Signs the Next 100 Miles.”

    @Tawnja and Eileen – Have you adjusted completely to the English system? And @Tawnja and Michael, I still check with my wife when I’m doing my Sunday morning baking and need to know how many tablespoons are in a quarter cup, etc. when I cut recipes in half. Grrr!

    @Vikki and Kathleen – Here’s a picture of two tape measures — one with both and one with just English (Imperial).

    picture of tape measures

    @Dan – Thanks! That’s how it was in my file. It’s now fixed on the blog.

    @Kathleen – The map is actually missing quite a bit, and the sizes of several of those “minor continents” is really off! I guess that’s part of the whole “how it looks to Americans” thing.

    @Carrie and A.H. – The UN may indeed get its way if the current bunch in DC continues to disregard the Constitution, no matter what the document says.

    @Jenni – That is too bizarre! Thanks for sharing that.

    @Heather – I would never have guessed that a frame could be that far off. It seems as if it would mess up the angle of the mitered corners.

  14. #14 Susan
    on Mar 30th, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    I wish I’d learned more of the metric system in school, because now I live in a country that uses it. At 39 years old, I was learning for the first time that 454 grams=1 pound, and that 23 degrees C is a comfy 73 degrees F. I still think in English measurements, and I have to quickly convert the temperature outside to F before I decide whether or not to wear a coat. Although one day last winter, I read in the paper that it was 45 degrees in a city in the northern hemisphere. I was shocked and wondered where it was over 100 degrees at that time of year in the northern hemisphere . . . till I realized I had read a Fahrenheit temp and thought in Celsius! So I guess I’m making progress.

  15. #15 Miriam Champlin
    on Mar 30th, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    The map of how Americans view the world is almost too true to be funny…. I was an MK in a 3rd world country, and have always struggled with how unintentionally arrogant Americans are. They are some of the nicest people in the world, but they come across so incredibly poorly….Sigh….

  16. #16 Uwe
    on Apr 2nd, 2010 at 6:15 am

    Living in Germany I certainly plead for using the metric system in order to make calculating easier. In earlier times in Germany there was a really chaotic situation. Nearly every town and even smaller villages had their own measurement systems – and sometimes even their own money.

    I think it is also a question of globalization. If one lives the whole life within a distinct system, one is used to it. Difficulties only rise if he/she goes or has to move to another system.

    Further it seems curious to me that we still have the 12 system for measuring time. Perhaps it is too difficult to introduce another one. The benefit of changing this related to the expenditure might not be worth it. Not to mention the time it would be necessary to change this really.

    I remember the changing of our Deutsche Mark (German marks) into Euro. It takes years of getting used to the new system. The situation in Germany was easy compared to other countries as the ratio was nearly 2 times. But even this situation was exploited by managers to hide markups.

    So on the one hand a big point is what we are used to. The other is that a complicated system contains more chances to hide for example unsound offers.

  17. #17 Rob
    on Apr 2nd, 2010 at 7:49 am

    @Susan, Uwe, and others along this line – I remember our talking about and playing with the metric system in my school days (in the 50s and 60s), especially in math and science classes — big-time in science classes. But our children were taught a lot about the metric system when they were in school and can actually visualize how deep 20 cm of snow would be. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve gotten on to it a little bit with temperatures, travel distances (km especially), and also liters from our times in France and China, but other parts of it find me clueless — like, how much would such-and-such a number of centiliters be, etc. I like the facility of the metric concept and can certainly see the advantages. I wish we would/could just once and for all make the change and move us beyond this no-man’s-land situation we’re in now.

    @Miriam – What can I say? I’ve seen it myself, and probably done some pretty dumb things myself in all innocence. ๐Ÿ˜€

  18. #18 Susan
    on Apr 3rd, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Have to agree with Miriam! No need to wonder why Canadians dislike Americans so much.

  19. #19 Sue
    on Apr 5th, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    I laughed out loud over the map of “how some Americans seem to view the world.” Thanks for sharing!

  20. #20 Rob
    on Apr 6th, 2010 at 6:07 am

    @Sue – Glad you enjoyed it. I will echo Miriam’s comment that “it is almost too true to be funny.” I guess that that is the case of much of humor — we can laugh heartily at something we know to be ridiculously true.

  21. #21 Laura
    on Apr 6th, 2010 at 6:37 am

    It has taken a long time to get a response posted this time ’round. Winders XP is acting up, and loading web pages & downloading e-mail has been a bear! It was worth the effort to see all the comments this time, though!

    The term “pound cake” comes from the *recipe*, rather than the weight of the finished product . . . a pound of eggs (about 8 large, these days – back when the cake was invented, folks had their own hens, which didn’t lay pre-sorted sizes!), a pound of flour, a pound of sugar (diabetes, anyone?), and a pound of butter . . . see http://baking.about.com/od/bundtcakes/a/allaboutpound.htm for more info.

    144 is our kids’ favorite number, I think. Whenever someone has it for the answer to a math problem, we hear “Ooooh, GROSS!!!”

    It was interesting to see that the British tape measure had 1/10 inch increments. We have some rulers with that division system, and it makes some kinds of measurements easier. I think that it is good to be able to choose a measurement system to suit the need of the moment. Perhaps the reason that we don’t change time to base ten is that it has worked so well so long as is. There simply isn’t a need to change something that everyone already agrees on.

  22. #22 Rob
    on Apr 7th, 2010 at 5:12 am

    @Laura – It was good to run into you on campus and to talk a little. Thanks for the explanation of the name of “pound cake.” Seems like those proportions wouldn’t be good for our proportions!

    Your home school must be a very interesting and amusing place! ๐Ÿ˜‰