As a consequence of the “very British mess” with measurement policy, the public has to put up with awkward, cluttered, hard-to-read dual measuring instruments. Various types are used every day. In this article, Ronnie Cohen describes several examples and comments on their impact on our daily lives.
Do you drive on British roads? If you do, you probably have to put up with a cluttered speedometer like the one shown above. The speedometer and odometer display miles to satisfy UK legal requirements despite the fact that modern cars are entirely designed, built and manufactured using metric units and so are British roads and all objects related to them. The only thing that is imperial on British roads are the units displayed on official road signs.
Do you cook or sometimes need to find out how hot the weather is? You will find it tough to find a thermometer or cooker that shows only Celsius. They predominantly show both Celsius and Fahrenheit, despite the fact that most modern recipes and weather reports are metric. It is a sad reflection of the continuing measurement mess Britons face in this country.
If you cook, the cluttered display on your cooker is not the only problem you face. You also face the messy displays on measuring jugs and kitchen scales. The measuring jug on the left (shown above) was on sale in a major UK department store and shows measurements in four volume measures. When the pint lines are compared with the millilitre lines, it is clear that UK pints are intended. However, take a look at the misaligned pint and fluid ounce lines. In the UK system, there are exactly 20 fluid ounces in a pint so you would expect the 1 pint and 20 fl oz lines to be perfectly aligned. However, they are not. This suggests that the fl oz lines represent the US fl oz of 29.6 mL rather than the UK fl oz of 28.4 mL but how many users of this jug would expect this to be the case? The jug also displays volume measures in cups. How many Britons know how big a cup is? What a confusing and messy mixture of measurements on a measuring device!
Do you work in construction, design, surveying or DIY work? The scale that most want to use on the pull-out measuring tape is on the bottom. The scale on the top is of no interest to construction industry professionals. If you try to use the metric units on the pull-out measuring tape for drawing lines, you have to use it in an awkward, cack-handed way with the units along the bottom. Likewise, a user of inches would have to use the steel ruler in an awkward, cack-handed way with the inches along the bottom. Obviously, it is much easier to use the top sides to draw lines. However, when both imperial and metric units are shown with increasing numbers written right-side up, either metric users or imperial users end up being the losers because one of these measurement systems must use the bottom side. When one set of numbers is shown upside-down with increasing numbers on one side and decreasing numbers on the other side, this makes the ruler look odd.
Do you buy loose fruit and vegetables at your local supermarket? The weighing scale shown above is used at a major British supermarket. Look at how crowded the display is, where grams and kilograms are outside the circle and where pounds and ounces are inside the circle. The major and minor lines around the circle look congested.
However, take a look at the weighing scale on a mobile staff trolley at the same supermarket and compare it to the one it provides to its customers. What a constrast! It is so much clearer and easier to read. It shows how much clearer single-unit measuring devices are compared to the dual-unit measuring devices. Unfortunately, measuring devices provided and sold to the general public are predominantly dual. Single-unit measuring devices on sale are hard to find.
These images of metric-only tapes show more examples of how much clearer, more user-friendly, easier-to-read single-unit measuring devices are compared to the dual-unit ones that are the norm in the UK.
As a consequence of the UK measurement mess, the availability of single-unit measuring devices is very limited so we are compelled to use awkward, cluttered, hard-to-read dual-unit measuring devices. This is the price we have to pay every day for the failure of the UK to complete its transition to the metric system and a sad reflection of the mess of two competing systems we find ourselves with today. The important lesson that British politicians must learn is don’t duel with dual. It’s not worth it.
(1) Reproduced with kind permission of Dr Metric. Source: p9 of “How Big is an Acre?” booklet by Alan Young (a.k.a. Dr Metric). Website: http://www.drmetric.com/