But touting the “return” of imperial units to shops is just disastrously retrograde. The logistical burden it would place on supermarkets could lead to increased prices at a time when many household budgets are already stretched thin, while polls show that younger generations are increasingly happy with metric measures. By kindling this debate, Johnson and the Conservative party have certainly keyed in to an emotive and overlooked aspect of our history. But the return of imperial measures is simply unfathomable.

It is optional. It gives us that thing that market choice always does give us – greater utility. Those that don’t care don’t care, those that do, either way, get to have their preference seen to. Utility is always personally defined, so now more people get to have their utility increased – we are richer as a result.

Simply the freedom to use one or the other, Imperial or metric, is wealth enhancing.

Now, there is still that place for weights and measures and all that. A claim that 1 kg does mean that it has to be 1 kg, that of a lb that it is a lb. There’s still that role for defining what kg, lb, fathom and furlong actually are. But who should use what, why and when, that’s not in fact something that needs to be determined by the state in the first place.

59 thoughts on “Fool”

  1. Steve across the Pond

    Once again, the colonies are victorious! And we landed men on the moon!

    Of course, we also lost a Mars probe…

  2. But if it isn’t mandated in law there won’t be any opportunity for the ‘chronically offended and looking for someone to bully’ types to throw their weight around and threaten shopkeepers with the law, nor any opportunity for the control freaks who are covertly against such freedoms to choose, to get involved in drafting said legislation and fuck it up.

  3. @Steve across the Pond: The Appolo Guidance Computer internally worked mainly in metric units for simplicity. It only converted to imperial on the display/input for the convenience of the astronauts. Which is incidentally – given conversion is trivial – not a whole lot different from including whicheverunitsyoulike on a retail product!

    I hope we keep the metric units as well though – I don’t want my soup to crash into Mars.

  4. It occurred to me that amongst many usual imperial measurements used there is the dick size. It’s always in inches, never in cm. For instance, late porn actor Holmes did not have a 41cm long one but 16 inches.

  5. Theophrastus (2066)

    The Government must go the extra 1.609344 kilometres on this one. It is time we anti-metricators had our 0.45350237 kilos of flesh.

  6. The shopkeeper has never complained when I order ten-foot-lengths of 25mm copper piping, or some 3ftx4ft 9mm plasterboard panels.

  7. It was an early example of the way our stupid bureaucrats just had to gold plate everything coming from the Eurocrats. We couldn’t just accept metric units as part of our system, oh no! we had to criminalise the imperial units that had served us well for centuries, and actually lock people up for using them. All the while the French, who invented metrication, continued using imperial units when it suited without problem.

  8. you get more in a metric packet of crisps.

    I consider myself bilingual and use whichever type of mesurement seems appropriate. I used to wind up my Austrian builder by speaking in feet and inches and the foreigners were all fascinated by rulers and tape measures that had both standards on them.

    ps I weighed myself this morning and I am a pound overweight, not 500g.

  9. @ Jussi

    Also, no-one sings about kilometres.

    And I would walk 804.672 kilometres and I would walk 804.672 more….

    I’d walk 1,609,344 kilometres for one of your smiles…..

    Just doesn’t work.

  10. The Meissen Bison

    Theo: The Government must go the extra 1.609344 kilometres on this one. It is time we anti-metricators had our 0.45350237 kilos of flesh.

    © Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph, yesterday.

  11. Since I find using metric units a bloody nuisance, I naturally applaud people being able to use imperial units.

    But I’d say that if the kids are taught it, it’ll gradually take over when all the white haired old bastards like me kick the bucket.

  12. Wheels and tyres, TVs and monitors are all in inches. It doesn’t matter. The only thing about units is to always pick one and use it alone, if you pick inches, don’t use cm or feet in the calculation.

    Imperial has useful sizes but awkward multiplication factors.

    Metric has silly sizes and inconsistent multiplication. Nobody uses dekameters or decimetres. They can’t decide whether to use steps of 1000 or 1000. Time units aren’t metric but nobody has any additional trouble with them.

    As I say when out shopping with the spouse, ‘Just fucking pick one’.

  13. But I’d say that if the kids are taught it, it’ll gradually take over when all the white haired old bastards like me kick the bucket.

    I was taught metric measures at school in the 70s and 80s. I still resolutely refuse to use french units.

  14. The Meissen Bison

    rhoda k: As I say when out shopping with the spouse, ‘Just fucking pick one’.

    You’re possibly making an elementary mistake there and enduring unnecessary anguish. That said, you will probably always be lumbered with printing returns labels.

  15. Charles Brecknell

    Being conversant in both metric and Imperial is a commercial advantage. The Americans are never going to change, so this will always be with us. British engineers can work in both sets of units, yet my US colleagues wouldn’t look at a calculation in metric. When on site in France talking to German engineer- he says “Why are the feet centres on this [metric] motor such an odd number (254 mm)?”. Yep metric motor dimensions are in inches originally (10” in this case).

  16. It’s a distraction by Boris from more partygate revelations. And judging by the column inches from the usual suspects it’s working. Particularly annoying is Peter Hitchens droning on about the beauty etc of imperial measurements. As you say, just let us use what works.

  17. Surely it is the metric system which is “unfathomable”? The guy is surely out of his depth.

  18. Nuti Nick +1000

    Andrew C – That song would be dire no matter what unit it was sung in (a secure unit consisting of a soundproof padded room would be an improvement though).

    Mike Finn – I seem to recall Rodney Trotter having a problem of that nature with his degree course

  19. I’m bilingual in this debate too. I often use whichever units are the most convenient. I do generally prefer metric though and I’m pushing 64. A long time ago I used to think that our half way metricated set up was absurd, surely just pick one or the other and go with it. Now I like the way everything is sort of messy, it makes life a bit more interesting. The scales at the gym are digital and have a little button that scrolls between kilos pounds and stones.

  20. Aeronautical Altitude is always measured in feet, and flight levels are multiples of 100 feet.
    ATC is in English. Everywhere.

    This really pisses of the French. hurrah for Imperial units!

  21. @Charles Brecknell
    Many metric “standard measures” are just the Imperial standards shown as metric. Your kitchen worktops are 3 ft high, wherever your kitchen.

  22. I just have to weigh in on the measurement of car tyres.

    There are three numbers that describe the size of your tyre, they are: 1) width in mm 2) profile as a percentage 3) diameter in inches.

  23. The writer of the Graun article really should have researched what he’s talking about. He makes much of the introduction of the metric system to France after the revolution. But seems unaware that that Imperial measures are still widely used in France. The Directive of 1803, introduced by Napoleon, makes it illegal to prosecute a Frenchman for doing so. So the UK is just moving in line with France on this issue.

  24. The Meissen Bison

    Has Captain Potato inveighed against this shabby Jonson trick yet? If he does, I do hope that one of those valiant visitors to his site are able to point out that the oo guage of his train set is a scale of 4mm to 1ft.

    Are imperial units soon going to be decolonised?

  25. TMB

    Commonwealth Measurements

    My scales are actually set to kilos, because I am too bleary eyed in the morning to read the ounces figure and can only handle three digits.

  26. Next we must persuade the Yanks to give up their daft pseudo-Imperial units – the silly little gallon and ton, the bonkers hundredweight (what sort of idiot has a hundred pounds in a hundredweight?), and their absurd kitchen measures that use the wrong values for teaspoon, tablespoon and so on.

    P.S. The Aussies are not sound on tablespoons either.

  27. A non-problem.

    A lot of so-called metric packaging in the UK, isn’t. For example: metric is 200g, 225g, 250g, 500g.

    UK packs, 227g, 340g, 454g (from jars and packs is in my cupboard) are metric equivalent of lb oz – that is: 8oz, 12oz, 1lb.

    This arose because to comply with metric labelling required only a simple label change, rather than pack size and production change which would be costly. In fact Imperial has always been allowed on labelling as long as the metric equivalent is shown alongside, and certainly it used to be so for years after metric labelling rules were introduced.

    So there would be no logistics burden on supermarkets.

  28. @TMB
    I’d imagine Spud’s one of those limited people who even now hasn’t managed to get his head around metric & still uses Imperial. And expects other people to do the conversions for him. So he’s unlikely to be touching the subject.

  29. I much care either way – but then I have a tendency to estimate some distances in Fence Panels.

  30. Johnson should announce that Imperial units will henceforth be known as People’s units. Just to really troll the Guardian.

  31. absurd kitchen measures that use the wrong values for teaspoon, tablespoon and so on.
    P.S. The Aussies are not sound on tablespoons either.

    Thank heavens for the ILAR quantity system in cookery – It Looks About Right.

  32. TMB @ 11.22. Railway measurements are….how shall we say….different.
    There are rules regarding ‘the envelope’ around trains and where locations can’t comply with these standards, speed restrictions will be imposed over that bit of line (notably entering terminus stations where the lines may be very close together).
    Bit between the rails = ‘The four foot’. In reality = Four Foot, Eight and a half inches (there is a metric equivalent but it will not pass my lips / fingers).
    Bit between two running lines = ‘The six foot’. Could be anything over six foot.
    Bit between two sets of running lines = ‘The ten foot’. Could be anything over ten foot.

    In one amendment to the Rule Book, someone inserted a clause in G1 which stated that 6 feet = 2 metres……….

    Sorry.

  33. ‘The Directive of 1803, introduced by Napoleon, makes it illegal to prosecute a Frenchman for doing so.’

    Thank you BiS. This gives me a higher opinion of Napoleon.

  34. Electronics is all in tenth of an inch. Which is a real ball-ache when connecting to 0.055″ D-SUB connectors.

    (Won’t have anything to do with the Devil’s own 2mm Surface Mount).

  35. “There’s still that role for defining what kg, lb, fathom and furlong actually are.”

    We could go back to the Weights and Measures Act 1985. The decimal-maniacs go on as if it’s ancient history. Boris is talking about returning to the situation that prevailed between 1975 and 1995, when both systems were legal.

    “The Americans are never going to change, so this will always be with us.”

    But the Americans don’t use Imperial. At all. No, not even a “form of” it. The Imperial System of Units was defined by the W&MA 1824, which came after the American Unpleasantness. They use the American Customary system, which is based on the Winchester Standards of 1588. (As so often, the Yanks turn out to be more British than the British.)

    That said, there was an Imperial Conference held in the late ’50s, attended by the US, which set a global-standard Yard and fixed conversion between the three major systems.

    But forget all that; as others have said, Imperial never really went away. I want foolscap and quarto back, dammit.

  36. Harry Haddock's Ghost

    @Charles Brecknell – likewise many things we buy. Take a look at a pack of stuffing mix. You need to add 425ml of boiling water. Which seems like an unusual amount given measuring jug scales usually go up in multiples of 10 or 20ml, until you realise it’s 3/4 of a pint.

    I guess they just never bothered to change the packing machines.

  37. @Boganboy
    Nappy was an artilleryman. The French artillery were still using a very French measurement of range at the time of Waterloo. But like a lot of these things with traditional measures, I suspect there was a reason for it. Probably connected to the range a ball would travel to using particular elevations. It’s much easier & quicker under fire to use a system of measurement related to what you’re actually doing rather than indulge in complicated mathematics using a universal measurement standard. It’s what underlies a lot of the scales of measurement used in the Imperial system. A pound can be subdivided into ounces by repeated halving. The higher weight scales do the same with larger weights. They’re actually two separate scales. OK 112lbs = 1 stone. But no one would ever in practice be using both scales at the same time or have to do arithmetic between them. Same with length. An inch is about the width of a thumb. A foot is divisible by 2,3,4 & 6. Who ever needed to divide anything by 5? Three feet a yard & larger than that & you’re in a different scale. Who would ever be using both inches & furlongs at the same time? No one ever needed to know how many yards in a mile.

  38. Steve across the Pond

    For the record, I was being silly. I know that metric is used in STEM fields and industries. Except for Mars probes.

  39. I find the US far more confusing. Is the US 20 oz beer more or less than an Imperial pint? Why don’t they sell beer in 16 oz US pints? Answer: because everyone would feel short-changed

  40. Surely 112lbs is one cwt, or 8 stones?

    I certainly hope so otherwise I weigh damn nearly threequarters of a ton.

  41. Sorry. Y’right. 1cwt. Trying to think thru all the divisions take you up to a ton & lost track. For the working bloke lbs>stone would make sense. lbs>cwt wouldn’t. Different scales. Literally different scales for most work. When your working in the cwt>ton range you wouldn’t be interested in an accuracy of 1lb.

  42. The problem with measurements is that if the customer has a choice, then the vendor doesn’t because they have to offer both; while if the vendor has a choice, the customer doesn’t as they have to accept either.

    So, given that the metric measures were deliberately designed to be easy to use over a very broad range of applilcations (rather than traditional measures which are occasionally being a little easier for one application and much harder for others), the sensible choice is to require everyone to be able to use metric and allow them to use alternatives by mutual agreement. And that is exactly the case currently. A vendor is free to use Imperial as well as metric if they like, and a customer is free to use Imperial if the vendor agrees to this by offering it. Similarly, if a customer asks for a pound of something prepared to order, they are free to do so and hope that the vendor is willing to agree to measure a pound.

    There is no extra freedom to be found here – just extra unnecessary complexity.

  43. Metric has silly sizes and inconsistent multiplication. Nobody uses dekameters or decimetres. They can’t decide whether to use steps of 1000 or 1000.

    Nobody does use decimetres, indeed. I literally have never seen one used.

    Tradies in NZ now use mm exclusively, not cm, because it means all conversions are x 1000.

    The only holdout is hectare. But as acre is a completely random size for modern life, given that we don’t plough with horses any more, it is still easier than the previous method.

  44. The Unvaxed Bison

    Chester D: we don’t plough with horses any more

    You’re governed by one instead. That’s progress.

  45. @Chester Draws
    “Tradies in NZ now use mm exclusively, not cm, because it means all conversions are x 1000”
    I always did. 672mm. Bloody European fuck ups use cm’s. With commas!

    @Charles
    “the sensible choice is to require everyone to be able to use metric and allow them to use alternatives by mutual agreement. ”
    That’s the state of play in the EU. It’s the UK eurofascists insisted everything metric. Early onset Remoaner Syndrome

  46. Chester:
    “Nobody does use decimetres, indeed. I literally have never seen one used.”
    You’re thinking one-dimensionally. Nearly everyone uses cubic decimetres (litres).

  47. Over here in Canada, we ended up with a blend. Supermarkets display prices in pounds (and kg), but the legal transaction at the cashier is in kg.

    Lot widths for houses are advertised in feet, but the deed is in metric.

    And there are other examples of blended units, too.

  48. Vern, don’t forget the labeling on goods – in English, sensible and befitting a once civilised country and the mandated hate speech…….

  49. @The Unvaxed Bison – June 1, 2022 at 8:55 pm

    Chester D: we don’t plough with horses any more

    You’re governed by one instead. That’s progress.

    Well, the back end of one anyway..! 🙂

  50. Vern Cooke: That’s precisely what hasn’t been allowed here in Britain for the last thirty years or so.

  51. @bloke in spain – “That’s the state of play in the EU. It’s the UK eurofascists insisted everything metric.”

    Obviously you haven’t been to the UK for a long time. You can freely buy and sell in non-metric units in the UK as long as prices and measures are also in metric. For example, look on tesco.com and you’ll find that you can buy milk in pints. Nobody has insisted on everything being metric, but if this this sort of fuss keeps being made, then maybe we should insisit on it and finally kill off Imperial.

  52. Does anyone here know their inside leg measurement in mm? As far as I know, M&S etc tend to display imperial collar, waist and inside leg measures

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