Apparently Jacob Rees-Mogg has issued his staff with a style guide from the 1940s, including insisting on the use of Imperial units rather than metric.
The other things on the list, I could believe, but that one made me think it might be a spoof.
I recall an instruction for double-spacing after a full stop from an old and august scientific journal who still did things the way they did a hundred years ago. With typewriters. Modern word processors and printers do not require the clarification of a double-space after a full stop because the visibility of that full stop is no longer dependent on how hard you press the key.
It’s not necessary any more.
I, like others, initially confused his instruction ‘no comma after ‘and” with the Oxford comma, which is before the ‘and’. I have never seen anyone put a comma after ‘and’ so must wonder at the level of English comprehension within the Government’s staff. Perhaps I’ve been right all along. Perhaps they are all idiots.
Okay, it’s clear Jacob Rees-Mogg would have been far happier if he had been born a hundred years earlier. The modern hedonistic world is clearly not to his taste. However, I still cannot believe he insisted on using Imperial units.
I’d be fine with that. I was one of the last generations to be taught those units in school and I still use an Imperial micrometer and many Imperial measurements anyway. Since I was around 11 when decimalisation started, I assimilated both systems and now use whichever gives me the nearest fit. So I might well write ‘4 inches by 10 cm’ when providing a measurement of something.
Some years back I went to the tobacco counter in a shop and asked for a half ounce of rolling tobacco. The young girl behind the counter just stared at me. Okay, I changed the instruction to ‘twelve and a half grams’. She handed me the packet and with smug superiority, corrected me to ‘twelve point five’. I let it go. I wasn’t going to get into a fight over half an ounce of tobacco.
I doubt anyone under 30 can handle fractions now. They aren’t being taught. Everything divides by ten in this new and easy world. How they manage to divide by three or seven.. well…
I can work in millimetres, micrometres, or quarters, eighths and thousandths of an inch. Most of Jacob’s staff will be a lot younger than me. Do they know how many chains are in a mile, how many pounds in a hundredweight (it’s not 100) or how many gills are in a gallon? I very much doubt it.
Oh there are relics. We still use miles in the UK and beer in pubs is still served in pints (I recall the uproar when my dad and his friends found out the threatened new half-litre measure was less than a pint) but is anyone still using fractions of these measures? I believe they still use furlongs in horse racing but who, outside the racing fraternity, knows what that is? Farms are still measured in acres and hectares, for now.
Metrication is still slowly encroaching. Beer in cans is measured in millilitres. Whisky in Scotland is now sold as 30 ml shots instead of a quarter of a gill. Some road signs, for things that aren’t far away, are in metres rather than yards. The old Imperial units are still around but they are a shadow system, with much of the fractionation of the measurements forgotten by the new generations.
The best you’ll get now is a hybrid. Eleven point six miles. Three point five pints. You’re unlikely to hear gallons or gills mentioned and as for weight, well, they’ll have to Google for the conversion and that will come back as six point three stone. Assuming they have been taught what a stone is…
Jacob must realise this. Okay, Imperial units were a pain most of the time. none of it made sense, none of it could be logically deduced, you just had to learn it all. I recall being delighted that we could now just divide everything by ten when I was a child, but then my son came home from his first school, in the early nineties, delighted that he could recite multiplication tables up to ‘ten tens’.
They don’t go up to twelve any more. No need, no more twelve inches to the foot, no more twelve pennies to the shilling. They don’t need to exercise their brains so much now. And it’s starting to show.
So I taught my son the easy trick of the eleven times table. I also, gently, coaxed him to the twelve times table. Just to show there was a world beyond ‘everything divides by ten’. He is now one of the few of his age who, like me, just uses whichever system is the easiest fit.
So, would a modern politician, especially one who is clearly intelligent, instruct his staff to use a measurement system few of them know anything about? It doesn’t seem likely, does it? And what would be the point, if their reports will be unintelligible to pretty much anyone under 50?
That one item on the list makes me doubt the whole list. Even though Jacob Rees-Mogg looks, sounds and acts like a time traveller from 1850, I still don’t think he’d go that far.
I guess we’ll find out when his budget report is in guineas…