Give him 2.54 centimeters and he'll take 1.609344 kilometers

The entire universe in blog form
May 10 2011 11:09 AM

Give him 2.54 centimeters and he'll take 1.609344 kilometers

I like the metric system. I really do. It's so much easier than trying to remember how many inches there are to a mile, or roods per square furlong*. I prefer metric over the imperial system, and use it all the time. I really wish the U.S. would just knuckle under and convert to it, and join the rest of the entire world in the 21st century.

Well, the rest of the entire world except for Burma and Liberia. Yay?

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  



The thing is, I do have a problem with the metric system. Not as a way of measuring things, but because it's really awful for aphorisms. Seriously. This has bugged me for a long time, but it came up again while writing a blog post where I wanted to use the phrase "That asteroid will miss us by a cosmic mile," a play on the phrase "country mile", a colloquialism for a long distance. I used the phrase because I liked it, but had to wonder how many of my non-American readers had no clue what I was talking about.

As I pondered more on this, it got worse.

Who can really refer to a diminutive friend as "0.2366 liter"? Will we bury people 5.5 1.83 meters under? Will contemplative people have a 914.4 meter stare? Will a liter be a kilogram the world around?

And it's not just phrases that will suffer. Will bars sell a 0.914 meters of ale? Will biologists have to start writing papers on 2.54 centimeter worms? Who would listen to an album by the rock group 22.86 Centimeter Nails?

And I can guarantee there is not a Texan in the Lone Star State who would wear a 37.854 liter hat.

Take this to the extreme. I dare you. Read the title of this post and tremble at the future of metrication.

And of course, we'll see the rise of metric pronunciation Nazis. Here's proof:

Is this the future we want?

Of course, I suppose, since they are aphorisms after all, we need not convert exactly. But they lose their charm. "Pinch a centimeter", "drop by the pub to grab a half-liter", "I wouldn't touch that with a three meter pole"... well, those fall a little flat. It's hard to fathom those phrases catching on.

But this day is coming. Heed my warning.

After all, 28.35 grams of prevention is worth 0.454 kilograms of cure.

* 40

I found out there's a British unit called the "fluid scruple", used by apothecaries. That's perfect, given the fluid scruples of selling homeopathic remedies.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

iOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
Sept. 17 2014 12:02 PM Here It Is: The Flimsiest Campaign Attack Ad of 2014, Which Won’t Stop Running
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
The Vault
Sept. 17 2014 1:04 PM The War Department's WWII Advice Booklet for Soldiers Headed to Syria
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 1:26 PM Hey CBS, Rihanna Is Exactly Who I Want to See on My TV Before NFL Football Games
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 1:01 PM A Rare, Very Unusual Interview With Michael Jackson, Animated
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.