Give them 2.5 centimetres…

I just felt like wasting some of my time on this little tantrum by Peter “I hate metric” Hitchens.

I am shocked when I hear people of my generation, raised to speak English and the direct inheritors of 20 generations of free men and women, thoughtlessly giving measurements in totalitarian metres and litres.

Well, let’s not get too carried away there Peter. Just because you happen to be used to a particular system doesn’t make it any more natural or intuitive or less totalitarian than another. It just makes it something you’re used to. As for it being totalitarian, it’s a legacy of the French Revolution! I’d love to hear your definition of ‘totalitarian’.

Would you still hate it so much if it wasn’t a French invention? Hmm? Be honest.

Recipe books and celebrity chefs likewise drivel about grams of butter and flour.

That’s because metric is much more precise and universally understood, especially when baking. Americans (who don’t like metric either) use cups, good luck cooking with those instead.

The fanatically metric BBC is dedicated to giving rainfall and snowfall in centimetres and millimetres

They’re not so fanatical when it comes to giving high temperatures in Fahrenheit for that extra heat factor!

Though it is always noticeable that the weights of newborn babies are invariably given in pounds and ounces. As Steve Thoburn’s friend Neil Herron remarked, if babies’ weights were given in kilos, most people would not know if the child involved was the size of a baby elephant or a small tomato.

If babies’ weights were given in kilos, “most people” would soon learn! Try telling a French mother her baby weighs 7 pounds and 3 ounces and watch her panic. Not so intuitive now, huh?

Kilos, metres and litres sound – and always will sound – cold, ugly, alien and oppressive to me

And imperial measures sound archaic, unnecessarily complicated and just plain bizarre to me. Tit for tat.

No wonder the metric system appeals to communists and similar fanatics. It satisfies their craving for neatness and regularity

Yes, God forbid that measurements should be regular! It makes so much more sense to have UK and US gallons, doesn’t it?

Mind you, in France I have bought butter from farmers by the ‘livre’ (pound) and eggs by the ‘douzaine’ (dozen), two centuries after revolutionary law abolished such things.

Actually, a French livre is exactly half a kilo. It’s a metric measure that still uses an old, pre-metric name. Sorry to disappoint. As for the eggs, this is true but there is obviously a demand for other quantities as you can now buy boxes of ten eggs in British supermarkets. Condolences.

Hell according to Peter Hitchens

I cannot imagine a kilogram, let alone a gram, or a metre or a litre or a hectare. I work out what they mean by converting them into the proper measures that have their roots and origins in the land, as I do – an acre is a day’s work at the plough, a fathom the width of a man’s outstretched arms.

When was the last time you ploughed a field then, Peter? As for metric measures being unnatural, they only are if you want them to be: 10cm is the length of the palm of my hand. One metre is the longest step I can take without falling over. One kilo is four butter sticks or one litre of water. One litre is a juice carton. One kilometre is the distance I can walk in 15 minutes. And so on and so forth.

Meanwhile, the mere mention of a ‘fl oz’ has me running for the hills!

These measures are rooted in daily life, are human, and honest, because they are polished in use, sound like what they are (can’t you hear a gallon sloshing in its bucket?)…

The metric system is rooted in daily life in every country that uses it every day. As for “human” and “honest”, these are totally subjective assessments based on familiarity. You can hear a gallon sloshing in its bucket? Good for you, so can I; I’m just not too sure about the size of the bucket… is it a British bucket or an American bucket?

… and because you can use them in poetry.

Do farmers care about poetry that much? I obviously go to the wrong markets.

There are miles, inches and fathoms in the Bible and Shakespeare, and if you converted them it would sound ludicrous.

This is from the “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for me” school of thought. Why not take back one kadam to honour the Hebrew God while we’re at it?

Indy doing his bit against metric

And how about Shylock demanding his half-kilogram (or 454 grams, given his precise inflexibility) of flesh? Or let us see what the BBC would make of Robert Frost’s beautiful poem Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening.

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep And kilometres to go before I sleep.’

Now you’re just being silly.

The metric system officially doesn’t have such a thing as a foot. It scorns this useful measure, going straight from the metre down to the centimetre.

Oops, the Daily Mail’s chronic lack of research rears its ugly head again. It actually goes metre -> decimetre -> centimetre, adding a zero each time. And a foot is only a “useful measure” within an imperial context. In metric, you just measure 30cm and Bob’s your uncle. Need a bit more? No probs, here’s 35.8cm for you. What’s that in imperial? One foot, one inch and, er… some bits. Thanks but no thanks.

See, that’s the beauty of the metric system: it’s easy. All you have to do is add or remove a zero here and there. No multiplying by 3 or 4, no dividing by 12. No need to learn your 11 or 12 times tables (eek). For those of us who are mathematically impaired, it’s a total gift!

Interestingly, Peter Hitchens doesn’t feel the need to complain about the decimalisation of the pound sterling. Could it be because – gasp! – he’s used to it? Does it ruin his enjoyment of Dickens to read about David Copperfield receiving two half-crowns from his mother before being sent off to boarding school?

Mum gave me two half-crowns! That's like one Galleon, seven Sickles and four Knuts! Yay!

One thought on “Give them 2.5 centimetres…”

  1. you just did the same argument vehemently in reverse. Same arguement, mirror version.

    You lot are nutters! 🙂

    P.S. Imperial and Metric are both pretty neat

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