3 feet equal 1 yard,
22 yards equal 1 chain
10 chains equal 1 furlong
8 furlongs or 5280 feet equal 1 mile
3 miles equal 1 league
Some of the above are old friends and others distant memories one was forced to learn early on in school.
10 millimeters equal 1 centimeter
10 centimeters equal 1 decimeter
10 decimeters equal 1 meter
10 meters equal 1 dekameter
10 dekameters equal 1 hectometer
10 hectometers equal 1 kilometer
This is the system of measurements, the metric system, learned in every country but three: Myanmar (the old Burma and the one currently suffering from a violent coup), Liberia, and—drum roll—the United States. Of the above two systems, which string of numbers seems easier to remember: 12, 3, 22, 10, 8, 3 or 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10? Which number is easier to multiply or divide by, 12 or 10?
There are other types of measurements. Consider volume for example: pints, quarts, and gallons in one system. Milliliters, centiliters, deciliters, liters, dekaliter, hectoliter, kiloliter in another. Notice the leads of this latter string of words are the same as the leads in the distance units. The latter list also resides in the metric system. The former list, along with the lengths discussed earlier and still more types of measurement, are a part of what is called the imperial system. That’s because it originated in the British Empire, but somehow the name seems proper because of our country’s typical superior feeling that whatever we do must be right.
The world of science employs the metric system almost exclusively. It has the advantage of both ease of use and making us compatible with the rest of the world.
I remember in an early required physics course the instructor forced us to become familiar with all aspects of the metric system. I found it difficult. Why? I’m supposed to have a scientific mind and the metric system is supposed to be easier. I attribute it to the fact that I grew up with the imperial system and by college time it was so imprinted in my mind that it was difficult to shake.
I also think that’s why our country is so reluctant to switch. The people who would make such a decision grew up imperial (no irony intended here) and therefore don’t see the need for change. Switching will take an act of courage, and the country won’t feel comfortable with the metric system until children grow up with it.
Some try to make a start. The Sunday comics in my local paper has a section called “Just for Kids,” so, of course, I read it. It gives all measurements in metric with a parenthesized imperial equivalent. Seems like a good way to learn.
So were highway signs that listed speed limits in both miles per hour and kilometers per hour. But they disappeared. I’m not sure why, but I can make a guess.
I think it’s becoming political. No one is going to change the way WE do things! After all, everything is a “constitutional” issue now. Not going to have those “kilometer” words polluting our highways.
So we still have not made the change years after other countries, including the United Kingdom which spawned the imperial system, have. Even after much of manufacturing and service jobs have switched. Even after President George H. W. Bush on July 25, 1991 issued an Executive Order mandating transition to the metric system for federal agencies. Even though U. S. law requires its use.
You can see how far we haven’t come along this road.