Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Weights and Measures.

I woke up quite late this morning, no idea why. But I was thinking about millimetres, for some reason.
Come to think of it, I remember the reason, as it had to do with it being spelt differently in America. (Millimeters)

By the time I started to see things in England described in litres, centimetres, or millimetres, I was already pretty old. This country still cannot seem to make its mind up about the metric system, even though we changed to decimal currency in 1971. Directions (and signs) are still given in miles, and most haberdashery shops will sell you cloth by the yard. When you go to buy carpet though, it is sold by the square metre, and I have to use Google to translate that into something I can understand.

Petrol is sold in litres, as is milk, wine, juice, and soft drinks. But I can still buy a ‘gallon’ bucket, or a ‘five-gallon’ container. Meat, cheese, and loose produce are now sold in kilos and grammes. That means little to me, so I translate that into pounds and ounces in my head. (A kilo is 2.2 pounds) I have no concept of how long one centimetre is, but an exact idea of the size of something that is a quarter of an inch long.

Clothing is another problem. I can still buy shoes in a size I recognise, but the length and waistband of trousers is show in centimetres. Before buying most clothing, I have to translate the number from inches, so I know what to order. When it comes to large items like cookers and washing machines, the dimensions are all stated in centimetres. But I have an extending tape rule that has feet and inches on one side, so I measure with that so I know something will fit.

It is not unlike having to use two different languages. Imagine ordering clothes in Italian, but having to read direction signs in German. Remember the old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? In my case, that is true.

Much of what I learned at school from 1957 is now obsolete. Telling younger people about such ‘ancient’ measurements usually brings on a smile, followed by a look of complete boredom. However, some of those old measurements still exist, in specialised forms. Take a ‘Furlong’ for instance. This originally derived from ancient farming measurements, and came from two words ‘Furrow long’. This was the ideal length to plough a furrow in a field for planting. At school, I had to learn that there were eight furlongs in a mile, so the length of one was 220 yards. You may think that this is of little use today. But did you know that every horse race in Britain is still measured in furlongs?

I also had to learn that one furlong was equal to 10 chains, with one chain being 22 yards. There was even a physical metal chain used to check this. If you think this is silly and outdated, then you should know that to this day, one chain is the distance between the wickets on every cricket pitch in the world.

Fluid capacities were important too. Not centilitres or millilitres, I had never heard of those. We had Gallons, Pints, Gills, Flagons, Bushels, Pecks, and Firkins. I knew the relevance and size of every one, by the age of eight. And not all of those have disappeared. Beer is still sold in pubs here in pints and half-pints.

I could go on and on, but I can see your eyes glazing over from here. A Hand was used as a defined measurement, stated at four inches. Who uses that these days? Every horse is still measured in hands, so it is widely used by horse breeders and trainers, stables, and jockeys. When I was young, an average weight of a grown man was said to be around 11 stone. So if someone was 30 stone, you knew that they were very big, and almost certainly obese. When I am weighed at the doctor’s now, they tell me my weight in kilos. For me to make any sense of that, I have to translate it to stones and pounds.

So the next time you are thinking about how long, wide, or heavy something is, just hope that someone doesn’t come along and change all the measurements to something you will never understand.

90 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

  1. Haha, all of the different measurements still amaze (and totally confuse) me too! Having moved to the UK only a few years ago, yards and foot were the easy ones to learn. But ounces are trouble when buying meat or cooking according to online recipes, and when we need to measure something with a measuring tape, me and my boyfriend look at the exact opposite sides of the tape : D so always need to compare our numbers before buying furniture etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My most useful comparison is when I was on teaching practice and it sunk in that a ruler was now 30 cms. That helps me with a lot of estimating and helps me remember that a metre is longer than a yard as 3 rulers would make a yard but, being only 90cm, I need another third of a ruler to make up a metre.
    But one thing I’ve never got my head around is my weight in Kilograms. To my daughter’s confusion, my digital bathroom scale still displays stones and lbs (although why we should abbreviate the Latin word for pounds instead of the English I will never understand).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought this was fascinating, Pete. I was taught using the metric system but I bake using ounces, pounds and pints and have to convert to metric for my books. My current WIP about the South AFrican War also requires lots of converting from kilometres into miles as they used the English measurements systems in South Africa then.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I was only ever taught the metric system in South Africa. I find imperial measurements a bit baffling. I have the reverse with being able to picture a unit of measurement. I can absolutely do it with metric measurements but I have no idea when it comes to imperial.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. For me, the issue was always the opposite. Having lived all my youth in the metric system, by the time I got to the UK it was a bit too late, and although shopping wasn’t much of a problem, I never got used to weight or height (I had some vague idea of what was heavy or tall, but no more than that). It depends. My mother still keeps trying to work out how much something costs in pesetas, although, of course, there’s no way of knowing how much they would be worth now. I’m still trying to get used to some changes in Spanish grammar that were adopted in 2010, but many people don’t care… At least now google tells us…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I still find myself converting weight into Stone (pounds) (kilos) I doubt like you we will go back but perhaps if a grocer wants to sell his spuds by the pound he should be able to. After Brexit I have more pressing concerns.. can I have back my decent light bulbs and powerful vacuum please…. thanks Pete and will share in the Blogger Daily tomorrow..hugsx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much for that, Sally. I used to get in such a rage about those useless new ‘ twisty tube’ light bulbs. But the modern LED ones (though expensive) are actually bright enough now. I still hanker for a nice 60-watt clear Osram though. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t see our current mish-mash changing much in the near future, Pete, unless some politician decides to take Brexit REALLY seriously and legislate a return to the anachronistically-named ‘imperial’ system, which, for me, would be a decidedly retrograde step. I made a conscious decision to adopt the metric system for linear & area measurements when I started a 3D Design course at college [still a polytechnic then!] in 1973, essentially because my mental arithmetic wasn’t good enough to calculate all those weird fractions, whereas increments of 10 was so easy! Having said that, I still haven’t [at 65!] been able to accommodate completely metric weights & volumes, although I can usually make an educated guess πŸ˜‰ I find it interesting that, although most British people assume that Americans are implacably opposed to the metric system, a lot of the recent screen drama productions involving the military show them using metric distances, so I wonder what that implies? Cheers, Jon.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My guess is that things will stay much the same after Brexit, and never go back to the pre-1975 system. I have seen many films and dramas showing both US and British troops referring to distances in kilometres. They usually call them ‘Kliks’.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I do a lot of cooking so I have become use to both systems……shoes is another story especially if you order on-line…….I am still working on the UK thing of weight….a stone……4 stone 7 or something like that….chuq

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A stone equals 14 pounds, chuq. But most people here give their weight in both, saying something like “I weigh 10 stone, 6 pounds”. When I see American weights stated as ‘300 pounds’, I have to mentally divide that by 14. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. One day, I told Ric Yardley, an old friend of mine who runs a farm, that his life was as easy as Ο€. And he replied, “-0-, really? You should walk a kilometer in my shoes!” So I said, “Okay.” We agreed that I should mow the lower 16.1874 hectares with a tractor and bush hog. I’m a believer in going the extra kilometer, so I also mowed around his house (front and back 0.9144 meters?). Afterwards, we walked a country kilometer to an orchard, because Ric wanted to pay me by buying 0.021772 metric tons of apples. I wanted cash, not apples, so I fought him every 2.54 centimeters of the way. But I couldn’t 0.453592 kilos it into his brain. And that’s why I’m spending the day handing out candy apples to all the kids in the neighborhood.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I was watching Nadiya per Julie’s(through you) suggestion and was intrigued that the flour was in grams but the smaller ingredients were in teaspoons and tablespoons. A mixed system for sure. My great great grandfather lived on Two Rod Road. Next to Three Rod Road of course. Not sure why that measurement or where it started measuring from.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rod appears to be derived from the Dutch measurement of a ‘Rood’, Elizabeth. I found this.
      https://www.britannica.com/science/rod-measurement
      Cookery cannot seem to get its act together where ingredient weights are concerned. Julie’s scales are digital, and will weigh in ounces/pounds or grammes/kilos. Here you can but a set of plastic scoops/spoons that relate to different teaspoon/tablespoon amounts. I never do any baking, so don’t know much about it. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Canada changed to metric in the ’70s, so I’m okay with most of that, but still relate to miles, feet, inches, etc. Grocery stores here use both systems — nuts are so much per 100 grams but fruit, veg, and meat are priced by the pound. Personally, i think of outdoor temperatures in degrees C, but indoors it’s F, because the thermostat for the furnace is in Fahrenheit. Sometimes I wonder how my brain manages that.

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  12. Thanks to Brexit you can go back to the old ways now πŸ™‚ Mind you I spent all my life learning English, only to find that they dont speak it in Poland, time for change I think, after all I converted to metric πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I doubt we will ever ‘go back’, Eduardo. But there shouldn’t ever be a time when we see road signs in kilometres. πŸ™‚
      That said, I wouldn’t mind it if Tesco started selling wine in bushels!
      Cheers, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It was strange the way it arrived here. Bit-by-bit, the volumes started to change on the containers. I think we all saw it as a way of increasing prices, when they claimed we were getting bigger packets and bottles. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I learned much of this in the US, and still remember when ‘the metric system’ was new and scary. I frankly ignore much of it in the decades since, and appreciate that a jar says its weight in grams and in ounces so I can keep a relative idea in mind. Furlongs were familiar to me, from living in the UK for a few years, but I had forgotten chains. It seems more secure when the measurements help give a feeling of competence in the world, doesn’t it? It feels more disoriented when things are not instinctual based on what we learned in earlier times.

    Oh well–best to all for a happy new year and beyond!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. If I recall (which may or may not be accurate!) there was a real push to adopt metrics here 20 or 30 years ago. I failed – we liked our inches, feet, yards, miles, pints, quarts and gallons. Race tracks on the other hand still speak of furlongs and hands. Seems on the science types (nerds all!) speak in metric.

    πŸ™‚

    Besties.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. But wait till you come to the US and – like me – base all your planning and sketching for a pedestal for an A/C unit on inches [it took me quite a while to figure the correct measures out], then go and buy 4×4 and 2×2 posts, saw them into the correct length based on your sketch, only to find out that nothing fits as planned, because here buying a 4×4 means you get 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 only! And – of course – 2×2 is 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 only.
    As to the good old days in GB: I kind of miss the “old” currency, when you could ask someone “What is your LSD situation?” πŸ˜‰
    And I fervently hope that I’ll always be able to by my beer by the pint. If they ever change that, then we’ll know that Britain has gone down the drain. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I still think in ‘old money’, Pit. My brain converts decimal amounts into the old system automatically, so I am acutely aware of the value of things. When the price of a stamp went up to 50 pence, I remember exclaiming, “But that’s ten shillings. Outrageous!” πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I found this fascinating! I thought I knew most every measurement, but I was wrong. Converting from one type to another is not easy. Well, it’s more annoying than anything else. I guess that makes me an old dog, too. Best to you, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Watching the BBC weather one day, I recall the presenter converting a warm centigrade temperature. He said, “That’s almost eighty degrees, in old money”. I don’t see why they can’t put both values side by side for the benefit of the older generation. There are enough of us still alive!.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I learned what’s hot and what’s not over a period of years by looking at the readout (in Centigrade) on my car’s dashboard. Us ‘oldies’ take a bit longer to get there, but I still cannot get my head around kilograms and still prefer stones and pounds when it comes to weight.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. I understand what you’re saying. They are still trying to convert us over here. It really is annoying. I can remember them talking about it in grade school, telling us it was the new way everything was being measured and we better get used to it because the old measurements would be done away with. But our story is similar, here.

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    1. So British! Also in Newmarket horses are still sold in Guineas, not pounds… The difference being thΓ© auctioneers’ comission. However there are some pretty weird things going on in Greece, too! Must write about it someday .

      Liked by 1 person

          1. It is about love and forgiveness, and courage, and friendship that brings courage that wasn’t there. It is not a children’s book. My father has read it many times and he is a very serious man and no lover of fantasy. πŸ˜‹ I say, try a sample first!

            Liked by 1 person

  18. I think the confusion has arisen because we’ve done it half heartedly.

    We buy petrol in litres, but measure its usage in miles per gallon, for instance. It would make more sense to use litres per 100 km.

    Like you, I learned all about chains and furlongs, and one you forgot; fathoms. So I guess you have difficulty fathoming (or 2 yarding (1.83 metering?)) out our mish mash of imperial and metric systems.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t forget fathoms, or knots. I just wanted to keep the post to a manageable size. πŸ™‚
      I agree that we should have gone 100% one way or the other. My preference of course would have been to leave it as it was. πŸ™‚
      (I doubt I will ever manage to work out litres per kilometre!)
      Thanks, Ian.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  19. And don’t forget recipes which used to be given in pounds and ounces and are now in grams and to further confuse things American amounts are usually given in ‘cups’. Many of the recipes I use are my mother’s so I have to convert them.

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  20. Pres. Carter tried to have us start using the metric system and some liked the idea and others hated it – so like you we often have things labeled with both or one or the other – I have to judge a lot of things by – “Can I pick this thing up!!” πŸ™‚

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  21. I remember in school when we were told we would need to learn the metric system. Needless to say it still has not fully come to pass here. Sodas are sold in liter and half-liter bottles, but other than that very little has changed.

    I know hubby has to be careful with tools and nuts and bolts because some are sold in the metric equivalent. Of course old bolts in use require the U.S. standard system.

    I remember looking for a recipe for scones. A dear English friend sent me her recipe. Now that was a challenge to convert. I tried to find an app to do it, but to no avail. I could never get a clean conversion.

    My cell phone has made some things, like temperature conversion, easier, but not all. My eyes glaze over if I have anything too complex to convert.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. All our temperatures and weather news like rainfall are given in metric. I do a ‘rough conversion’ in my head every time, just so it still makes sense. When I was young, 30 degrees was cold. Now 30 degrees is hot. They can never just leave well enough alone.
      Thanks, Maggie.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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