Was watching an email list discussion about imperial vs metric.

I’m young enough that all I learnt at school was metric, but most of the adults around me (such as my parents) were more familiar with imperial, and some of it rubbed off and entered my knowledge and vocabulary.

So I do know that an adult male is about 6 feet tall. That railway lines (in Victoria) are 5 foot 3 wide.

Computer monitors I know in inches, and some TVs, but I can’t quite grasp how much smaller my 19 inch computer monitor is compared to my old 68 cm TV.

Airlines refer to altitude in feet and yards, but otherwise all long distances to me are metric. The only reason I know about miles is that they are roughly 1.4 1.6 kilometres, and a yard is just under a metre.

The weight of newborn babies still seem to be more commonly referred to in pounds, but I have no concept of imperial weights apart from that; it’s all grams and kilograms.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

21 replies on “Imperial”

Not far off you City Loop observation, you will notice many shopping centres and other commercial areas still signpost a silly ‘8km/h’ speed limit instead of a more sensible ’10km/h’ (including incidentally the office building I work in)

Reason: 8km/h roughly corresponds to 5mph in the old system

I’m much the same as you, Daniel, being the same age more or less. But a mile is 1.6km, so that 5miles is 8km (as Andrew S said). 90m is100 yards (more or less), so old 110 yard sprint records are kind of like 100m. There are enough americans around to not let it die, as well as the British still using miles and mph.

If my bus line, the humble 513, runs twice an hour and connects wonderfully with the tram-every-4-minutes-morning-peak #19, can I blame imperial measurements on this too?

In the US what is called Imperial is called English – which is ironic because in England they use metric. As with many precedents the US is late to the metric party and forms the ever popular trio together with Burma and Liberia of the countries that have not migrated to base 10.

Just to confuse the crap out of everyone, as Glenn pointed to they call Imperial units ‘English’ – Occasionally there are differences – for example an Imperial gallon is around 4.5 litres while a US gallon is only 3.8 litres!!

I was in the US in 1998 and had to try and interpret the temperatures in °F during a hot spell in Los Angeles (100°F = 37.8°C)

Small soft drink bottles had net volumes in fluid ounces with mL equivalent also labelled, but filled to the US standard (odd number of mL’s). I believe 2L and 3L larger bottles are now standard there.

When I was a kid in the mid-70s, the local governments tried to shove metric measurements down the people’s collective throat, but we weren’t haveing any of that New World Order stuff–they tried putting up highway signs in kilometers, but people vandalised them immediately. Unfortunately, they’ve managed to squeeze in things like 2 litre pop bottles, and the fifth has been replaced with some metric measurement.

Video displays and aviation are the two things I need to think of in Imperial units – I just can’t picture what a 68cm TV is. I need to convert heights and baby weights to metric in my head. But then I go converting the other way before speaking if I know I’ll get a nicer number – for example I will say that Sydney is about 500 miles away from Melbourne, because it lands on the 1-2-5 sequence, unlike 800km.

About the only decent thing to come out of the French Revolution- the Metric System! Here’s a little history lesson, for those of you who are interested in the origins of the metric system! As I said, it originated at the time of the French Revolution:

The reason for the change was a general mood that had swept through the country- the Revolutionaries were hateful of the monarchy, as Marie Antoinette could attest to, and so when they established the First Republic, they wanted to do away with anything connected to the Ancien Regime:
They practically replaced all the old traditions with new ones, the metric system being central to that! They based all the new unit measurements on the number 10, quite sensibly, as it was much easier to make calculations. They then went about determining what these measurements would be- the original metre was derived as 1/10,000,000 of the distance between the North Pole and the equator, the kilogram was one litre of water.

Today, all units are based on specific physical properties, with the only exception the kilogram-it is defined by a specific weight which is kept at the International Standards lab (I think) in Paris. As a physics graduate, learning SI units:
was vital. All scientists are supposed to use it! I remember, and Andrew S may recall, we had Physics textbooks at Monash from the US, and many of the examples were in imperial units, which were an absolute nightmare to do, as you have to divide various units by rather obscure numbers (ie, 12 for no. inches in a foot, 3 for no.feet in yard,etc) . Metric, or SI units, are based on multiples of 10, therefore infinitely easier to calculate, and thus you now know why I love the SI system!

Incidentally, along with the metric system, the Revolutionaries also introduced decimal time:
which didn’t last too long, thankfully!

The other thing they also introduced was the Republican calendar:
This actually has some historical ramifications. They introduced a calendar of 12 months, with each month consisting of 3 ten day weeks. The names of the months were based on the seasons in which the months occurred, to reflect the nature of the seasons. This calendar was adopted in 1793 as the official calendar of the First French Republic, which was year 1, and used until 1805. The reason I say that it as crept into history is that anyone who has studied Napoleonic history such as myself, will have read of such events as 18 Brumaire:
when Napoleon seized power. Also, anyone who has had Lobster thermidor can also thank the Republican calendar. Napoleon did away with the calendar in 1805, as he had replaced the Republic with the First Empire, effectively returning to the old monarchical ways.

Wow, I rambled….again!! Incidentally, I do have some interaction with the imperial system, as where I work we have many old pieces of machinery, which require imperial Allen keys. I’m responsible for the tomato paste production line, and to control the temperature, I use a 40 year old control box which reads in Fahrenheit! many of our hoses and fittings are also given in imperial units! Suffice it to say, in manufacturing, imperial is still in common use!

As mentioned in another coment an attemt to convert to the metric system in the US was made in the 70’s but didn’t last long. I can remember being introduced to it in about 1976-77. Since about the same time cars in the US (both American made and imports) have had both the mile and KM scales printed on the speedometers. Presumably this comes in handy if one were to drive into Canada or Mexico. The KM scale is usually printed much smaller and thus hard to read while driving. The odometer counts miles. For some reason car engine sizes have been quoted in liters for some time now and this is a metric measurement that an American will understand. We also have the 2 liter soda bottle and cocaine is counted and sold in kilos. Other than that the metric system is hardly seen or used in the US.

Since I have lived in Australia for almost 2 years now I have a much better understanding of the metric system now but I still will sometimes convert some measurements and temperatures to have a better grasp of things.

I was brought up entirely and purely metric, so have absolutely no grasp of imperial. Even the birth weight of my little girl meant nothing to me until I used my iPhone to convert it to metric…

Hence I only shop at Bunnings, as Mitre 10 have everything in imperial so not only do all their bolts/etc not fit but I don’t even understand what the heck is written on all their shelves… idiots.

Anyways, gotta love this “Imperial Stormtrooper vs Metric Stormtrooper” picky :)

deg C to F is an in-your-head thing – x9 /5 +32 – and reverse -32 x5 /9

Assumes you can do arithmetic in your head, I suppose.

Yards and Metres are close enough if you’re buying lengths of stuff from the hardware.

My gripe is centimetres. People shouldn’t be using them!

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