Imperial?

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…

47 thoughts on “Imperial?

  1. When a reporter from the Spectator went to visit JRM in his London flat, he welcomed him, then pointed to an ashtray on the table, sating “I don’t smoke, but I don’t mind if you do.”
    What we used to call manners.

    I stay in hotels a great deal. They welcome me. I’m their “guest”. But they want to fine me for lighting up in the room that I paid for. “It stinks”. So does my poo. I really should see a doctor about that. What are your surgery hours?

    So I wear out their lifts. So do the other smokers. Two lifts at the last hotel I stayed at went offline during a week. Lift mechanics are really, really expensive.

    Back to JRM and Imperial. It’s not too taxing on the mind to build up a mental image of conversion factors. You need it if you ever want to travel so if anti-Brexiteers rail against him promoting them, they presumably know what the exchange rate is, they can speak European languages – how onerous can it be to remember a few weights and measures?

    It is *far* more difficult to become fluent in a foreign language. Weights and measures have no context, no nuance, no inflection. They’re easy. Non-white countries have weird units. Why can’t we?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I still use the Imperial units a lot. When you build models in 1/72, 1/24th, etc (which came from Imperial units) then the metric stuff just doesn’t fit. I recently read that ‘OO scale (1/72) is 4 mm to the foot’. No it isn’t. That’s an approximation. Yet it is what all modern modellers believe.

      It’s 4.23333…. mm to the foot. One sixth of an inch to the foot is more accurate and – to me at least – far easier to work with 🙂

      These days I try to stick to 1/24. Half an inch to the foot. Easier on the old eyes…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Having spent a year getting my mariner’s navigation ticket, you can tear my nm and kn out of my cold, dead hands. With GPS, the d/m/s are gone – the lazy buggers use decimal. To that, I say eliminate the degrees as well and stuff everything into units you can count on your fingers.
        Last time I checked, German plumbing fixtures were imperial. Unsure about the rest of Europe – probably because they don’t have any.
        The odds offered on horse racing in Australia are in decimal. People won’t know if 9/5 is better than 11/6, because they won’t know how to do it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yep, the entire concept of fractions is lost to at least one generation. Yet fractions are more precise than decimal. I can say ‘one third’ and it’s a precise measure. In decimal it’s 0.33333…. recurring into infinity.

          I taught my kids the Imperial system, at least part of it. My son took to it, my daughter not so much, but at least one of them can pass it on.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Certain kinds of pipe thread is denoted in inches, originally corresponding to the internal diameter of certain old thick-wall pipes, but now mostly just labels. The pipes, whether copper or plastic, are now all indicated as external diameter in millimeters. Copper pipes from before the 1980s are typically 12.7mm, 16mm and 19mm, more recent ones are 10mm, 12mm, 15mm or 22mm. There exists also some 18mm pipes. All of these can be found in any house, all oke as long as there are nothing that leaks.

          We also use inch-notation orally, when talking about nails or lumber, a «sekstom-spiker» is around 150mm long, and a «to-tom-fire» as we call the two-by-four, is some 48mm by 96mm when adjusted. But other than that, everything is metric. This may have to do with the fact that the older Norwegian tomme (inch) was not the same length as the Swedish one, and neither of them matched the standard 2.54cm that we all have become used to now.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. “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?”

    Because the old system was ours for centuries, and decimalisation — intentionally or not — turned the past into a foreign country. Remember when the legal profession modernised their terminology back in the Blair years? Suddenly centuries of legal practice, vocabulary and precedent go from being part of a living tradition (‘how it’s done’) to being arcane and obsolete relics (‘how they did it in the old days, which hve little if any relevance under our brave new regime’). Just as the Year Zero mob like it.

    If this story is true this insistence on doing things “the old way, the right way” indicates that Jacob R-M comprehends that fighting the culture war starts on the moral level.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Imperial system can easily handle things the metric system can’t. Such as division by three or seven. There are no recurring decimals off into infinity, you just move down from sixteenths to thirty-seconds to sixty-fourths until you hit a number that divides no more. Then you have precision, not infinite recurrence.

      Heck, you can work in twelfths or fifteenths if that fits better.

      Metric is rigid on ‘divide by 10’ while Imperial is flexible enough to ‘divide by anything that fits’.

      I’d say, personally, that the EEC should have adopted Imperial when we joined instead of us adopting Metric. That was never going to happen of course.

      I’d love to see those Imperial measures come back. If only for the chaos it would cause in schools. There aren’t many teachers left who remember how they work, and nothing in them divides by 10 🙂

      And I really believe it would make kids smarter. Metric is easy. With Imperial you have to think.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I often like to explain the Sterling duodecimal system to students. I show them how to add up Pounds, Shillings and Pence in the “normal way”, and to multiply them too (but NOT the “Chinese Box” which neither they nor I understand although they are taught it forcibly every day for five years) and they are gobsmacked. Since none today know how to do “takeaways” properly, they fail to grasp Imperial Sterling subtraction completely. It is very sad.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I have a friend, back in Wales, who still instantly reconverts metric cash into proper money. It makes you think twice about buying things – 80p sounds like it’s not much, but sixteen shillings for a bag of crisps?

          I still get my grandmother in my head saying ‘Don’t you bloody dare!’

          I never listened when I was younger either…

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      • I have often said that metric was the prefered system among those who are lazy at math and at long-distance running. Usually preceded by “five-k shmive-k…”

        Here in the States I expect they’re still teaching both systems, but cursive writing is apparently now deemed unnecessary by many schools. So dies civilization, I say.

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    • “JRM will take us back to the Victorian age”
      When we ran most of the world and had exponential economic, industrial and scientific growth?
      He’s polite and acts with dignity. Anathema to his critics..

      Liked by 2 people

      • Also when we had no electricity and no nuclear power and lived in hovels… which is totally not exactly the same as where the Gritty Thunderbird’s handlers want us.

        So if they hate him, and they do, he’s doing something right.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Comma after ‘and’:

    I was taught that if a sentence has one or more semi-colons and an and immediately follows the last semi-colon, a comma should be added after that particular and.

    Probably by the same English Grammar teacher who would have had apoplexy at reading legitimate sentences ending in and.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. New born still in lb and oz.
    Body weight loss still in stones and lb.
    And the military.
    A glorious mixture of yards, range; feet altitude; knots, speed; m/s, muzzle velocity; mils (real mil,), angle subtended by a yard ( or any length unit) at a range of 1000 yards (or 1000 of same length unit), degrees, seconds of arc,

    Liked by 2 people

  5. My dad told me about a new barman who nearly bankrupted the Isle of Man bar where they both worked in the early fifties. I forget where the customers came from, but it was somewhere where they used “gill” the same way Scots use “nip”. The barman was blithely giving anyone who ordered a gill a gill – in other words, four times what he should.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Old school engineer by trade, so use both systems and can convert between the two. Like you I use whichever fits better. A statement from a pedant:

    Metrication is helping destroy the richness of our language, 2.54cm by 2.54cm, and I will go the extra 1,609m to stop this – fighting 0.914m by 0.914m and 0.305m by 0.305m, I will defend every 0.405 hectares, every 5.03m, 5.03m and 5.03m of this rich terrain. I will 0.454kg on their doors, and use every 28.3g of my strength to impede their efforts. I’m off now, but not 201m!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. In the microbrewery that I started up we have firkins and pins. Firkin being 9 gallons or 45L and a pin is half that volume. I don’t use the shorthand old names but my business partner (ex customs) does. Curiously we use 1M^3 fermenters. My physics master at school always made us calculate the imperial equivalent to the MKS result and the MKS result from an imperial result. Yes, he loved foot poundals and British Thermal Units. Oh, and nautical miles. However this meant that converting anything could be done approximately almost instantaneously mentally. Jolly useful back then. Old school. All the younger masters were keen on metric and degrees Celsius.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I have always been in love with imperial measures. I staged my own one-man protest against metrication when I worked in a supermarket forty-ish years ago. Some items were being sold with both measurements, so I would hide the metric value behind the price label.

    They should bring back pricing guns as well – best part of the job, although these days, you’d probably need a firearms licence.

    But (sorry, Jacob), imperial measures mean something, don’t they? E.g. an acre is what a yoke of oxen can plow in a day. Metric is boring, repetitive and alien. I think someone above cited it as an attack on our culture.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You have to love the acre. One chain by one furlong. When the rest of the world measures land area by square this or square that, the British respond with ‘Screw you, we’re going to measure it with rectangles’.

      Liked by 2 people

    • This is the beauty of the metric system, though. Metric is easy. It has been specifically designed from the ground up to be easy, so you don’t have to bugger about wasting your time double checking the one part of doing stuff that should be easy, simple and obvious, that is to say measurements, and can get on with interesting stuff.

      A case in point has to be pressure units. Metric uses pascals (kilo pascals usually as a pascal is quite small), which nicely multiply up in units of ten, same as the number system.

      Want to go non – metric? Well, there’s pounds per square inch (either imperial or American pounds), atmospheres, bars which are standardised atmospheres, millimetres of mercury (measured under specific conditions) or inches of pure water.

      All of which are mutually incompatible and a right pain in the arse to use.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think there is any “beauty” with metric. It is the modern, grey, impersonal equivalent of a multi-storey car park where a fine town hall once stood. It uglifies the world in the same way that modern architecture and ‘art’ and ‘music’ and language and ‘ethics’ do.

        Scientists can do what they want, but for everyday use, I don’t see anything remotely confusing about pints and gallons and MPH and MPG, measuring in lbs and oz to bake a cake, etc.

        If variety is the spice of life then the metric system is a failure. If it was wanted, we would have gone completely metric in everything by now.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. I worked in the grain and animal feed trade. We had used metric weights for years for pharmaceuticals, vitamins etc but still the changeover to metric weights and measures for the end product never quite matched the familiar feel of imperial – although 25kg is only just short of half a hundredweight.

    A couple of years ago, for pure curiosity, I stopped to have a look round an agricultural merchant’s store. There were prepacked mixtures of herbage seeds ( something in which I have a long-forgotten qualification) – all in metric of course but the sowing rates were given in kilograms PER ACRE. That somehow made me feel better! I always had to double check calculations in kg/ha ( kilograms per hectare) but I knew when pounds ( or hundredweights) per acre were correct..

    It reminded me of the Australian farmers’ grumble on metrication – “ The farm’s half the size and twice as far out of town”. Would that the conversion factors were so simple!

    Liked by 1 person

    • My car initially showed fuel consumption in litres per 100 km. Took a bit of mental gymnastics to work that into an approxinmate MPG while driving.

      I finally relented and opened the manual and found out how to change the display to MPG – and now I actually miss that mental arithmetic!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. “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?”

    Heh, I have to admit, I wouldn’t have a clue for ANY of those! (Ok, ok, stop muttering “another dumb Yank” ‘n just tell me! 😛 )

    ;>
    MJM

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi

      A chain is 22 yards ( the length of a cricket pitch). A furlong is 220 yards
      (and the length of the furrow ploughed
      by the oxen referred to above) so contains 10 chains. Eight furlongs make a mile of 1,760 yards. So there are 80 chains to the mile.

      A hundredweight (cwt) is 112 pounds (lbs).

      A gill is a quarter of a pint of liquid so equates to 5 fluid ounces. You can see why the drinkers at the pub referred to above were such a good deal!!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t had the chance to read all of the article you linked to Michael but it has piqued my interest and seems very well written. I have bookmarked it for later.

      There are 80 chains in a mile and 112 pounds in a hundredweight. How many gills to the gallon depends on whether you are talking in imperial or US gallons. There are 32 gills in an imperial gallon, 26.65 gills in a US gallon. I do admit to consulting a calculator for a couple of the answers but wanted to find answers for you. I’m really only any good with length measurements.

      Liked by 1 person

    • MJM – In the US Customary Units system, I believe that a hundredweight really is 100 pounds. That makes your ton weigh only 2,000lbs whereas the Imperial ton is 2,240lbs. Yours is somewhat lighter, but you still wouldn’t want it landing on your foot.

      The Imperial ton, you call the ‘long ton,’ and is used occasionally in commercial transactions. The metric tonne, of course, is not only spelled stupidly, but is a boring 1000kg. How exciting!

      Liked by 1 person

    • There is no point saying that you can visualise imperial units because they relate to different features of the human body because all bodies are different.
      The metric system is easy to visualise because a metre is one ten-millionth of the distance from the equator to the north pole. Easy. Anyone can visualise that.
      Yes, we know they got it wrong, but, hey?

      Liked by 1 person

      • North Pole to Equator is too far for me. But the width of my hand is pretty close to 1 dm = 1/10 m. And if you weigh a sheet of A4 paper of the common 80 g/m^2 weight, you’ll find that that sheet weighs pretty much exactly 5 g. Sometimes that can be useful.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. As for visualization and units-of-measurement, I’ve been able to work with different systems, in different locations. Having grown up in Europe, with liters and kilometers, then I got used to petrol priced by the liter, and fuel consumption in liters per 10 km. Then I moved to the US for a while, and got similarly comfortable with prices of gasoline in dollars per gallon — as a student, this was of fairly large importance — and fuel-consumption measured in miles per gallon. To the extent, that when some gas stations started advertising their various grades of fuels in dollars per liter, the numbers looked weird and I had to take time-out and convert them to dollars per gallon in order to see if the price was good. (it usually wasn’t)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. 1/2, inch became 15mm
    3/4, inch became 22mm
    1 inch became 32mm
    1 1/4 inch became 38mm
    1 1/2 inch became 42mm
    2 inch became 50 mm
    3 inch became 75 mm
    4 inch became 110mm
    And on and on.

    On my watch during my plumbing apprenticeship at t’shipyard, 1977-1980.
    Weirdly or not 16 mm copper pipes (marine plumbing stuff) fitted 1/2 inch copper fittings perfectly.
    Black alkathene fitted imperial pipe fittings perfectly even though it was labelled in millimetric. Then it got changed to blue and only fitted the millimetric approximations.
    Pipe threads were BSP British Standard Pipe, still are as far as I can recall.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I tried to help the 17 year old Saturday girl on the fruit and veg stall by asking for something in grams. She was nonplussed and I had to revert to my usual gammon-speak ounces request.

    Like

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