Monday, July 09, 2007

Imperial versus metric - is the tide turning?

I've never made a secret of my dislike of metric measurements. For me, our system of weights and measures are more human and indelibly linked with our culture - give the metric supporters an inch and they'll take the lot. If we don't protect our systems then the metric zealots will go the whole nine yards and before you know it they'll be trying to stuff a quart into a pint pot.

Get the idea?

Our imperial system isn't just a way of measuring - it's embedded in our culture. From Shakespeare's pound of flesh in The Merchant of Venice to the size of football goalposts (8 feet high by 8 yards wide in case you didn't know -even in Europe). When something becomes such an integral part of the language and culture of a nation like that then it is worth protecting.

I felt the same way about our currency. These days we have the pound and the pence. That's it. There is nothing else, but not that long ago we had the shilling, bob, crown, half-crown, tanner, thrupenny bit, tuppenny bit, hapenny, farthing, penny, pound, florin, two bob-bit and guinea. Ok, we still have the guinea, but it's not in common usage anymore unless you're buying a racehorse. The loss of those terms which were part of our everyday language has demeaned our culture. Once upon a time we would say something like "I don't care tuppence". Nowadays, it would more likely be "I don't give a fuck".

That is one of the advantages of our system - it's descriptive capability - which metric just does not have.

So I have found it encouraging over the last few weeks that I seem to have noticed a growing tendency for the media to use our system of measurements more and more - particularly in respect to the recent floods and rainfall.

I think a lot of this is driven by us - the public - as reporters talking to normal people affected by the floods found they all use the traditional system when asked what happened. Almost invariably, when asked, the public responded with comments about a "few inches" or "a couple of feet" - and this seems to have relayed itself back to our media who have also started to mention rainfall, once more, in terms of inches rather than meaningless centimetres or millimetres.

The imperial system is more human. If someone says that we're in for an inch or two of snow - we instantly know in our minds what that looks like. If someone says we're in for 20-40 mm it is less obvious. If we're told to look out for a criminal who is five feet four and weighs 15 stone - we know to look out for a short fat bloke - if we're told he's 165cm and weighs 95kg then most of us wouldn't have a clue.

Now, if we can only start getting some of our old currency terms back again .......


Anonymous said...

I'll have 1lb 2oz and 14 drams at £1 9s 3 1/4 pence please. How much?

Get a life man.

Stan said...

Hard to disagree with such an eloquent argument as that - even though it carries not an ounce of common-sense and is clearly the remark of someone who is not the full shilling.

Henry North London said...

Im afraid the days of the ten shilling note are over

I wish I had one they're worth about a tenner now

Stan said...

I don't doubt that, Henry - if they're worth a tenner now, I wish I had a few hundred!

But I'm not hankering for a return to the old lsd currency. I'm arguing to preserve our current system of weights and measures which are ingrained into our culture and part of our every day language and which are far more human than the metric system.

With regards to currency, I do lament the loss of everyday phrases and terms for coinage as this has also degraded our culture. The USA was one of the first to use decimal currencies, but they have successfully kept popular terms for much of their coinage - the dime, quarter, nickel - whereas all we have left are pounds and pence.

I think we could restore some of that by redefining our coinage. The dime is called a dime and has "1 dime" on it. Why can't we have a "shilling" - a 10p coin with 1 shilling on it?

We could get rid of the 20p coin and have a 25p coin called a half crown, a 50p coin called a crown (or 5 shillings), the 5p could be the tanner.

Just a thought, that's all.