Re: Metric Time (was Re: Why not 13 months? (Was La Systeme Metrique))

Don Stokes (
8 Oct 1995 02:48:05 GMT

Keith Morrison <> wrote:
>Oh yeah, the foot is *so* much better...

I think there are five issues that keep feet & inches alive for "casual"

i. Familiarity (self explanatory)
ii. Divisibility. 10's integer factors are two and five; 12's are two, three
four and six, making a halves, quarters, thirds, sixths and twelths of a
foot easily represented.
iii. The size of the relationships; to represent say a person's height in
feet and inches requires two numbers to be remembered. 10, 11 & 12
are treated as single words in English, making any measurement in the
range 1" to 12' to a precision of one inch expressible as two "digits".
Compare that to mm, where you need four to express a person's height;
even in cm you need at least three. Decimetres never took off, but I
think they lack the required precision even for casual measures.
iv. Feet and inches are a convenient size. The're based on the size of
body parts; inches are a size that can be perceived from the middle
distance, feet are perceivable at a longer distance.
v. Those *names*. I'd stop saying "miles" immediately if the "official"
name for a kilometre changed to something that rolled off the tounge as
easily. Here we call km "kays", but this offends my sense of precision
in language (kay*whats*?). Same applies to cm (Hams often call cm "cems"
when talking about bandplans but I don't hear this anywhere much else)
& mm ("mils" -- but we call mililitres "mils" as well...). Even "metre"
could be a syllable shorter.

I suspect a system that had a foot-sized unit as its base and "inches" of
one tenth of a "foot" would have been more successful, although it would
lack advantages i & ii above.

Personally, as one who started school just as NZ changed from Imperial to
metric and therefore lived with both systems from an early age, I find feet
& inches a lot easier to deal with in conversation. I'd not use anything
but metric in technical descriptions (apart from standard dimensions, eg
3.5" form factor, 19" rack etc) -- Imperial measures are just too hard
to interchange. There's no doubt about the utility of the metric/SI system;
it just has a few shortcomings in the area of human factors.

Don Stokes, Network Manager, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. +64 4 495-5052 Fax+64 4 471-5386