Continued use of medieval units damages UK’s image abroad

Following the Brexit vote, leading ministers have used a number of buzzwords and phrases to try to promote the UK in a positive light as they talk about new trade deals, free trade, investment, lower taxes and lighter regulation. Can they be serious?

Words and phrases that are newly appearing in ministerial scripts include “modern”, “liberal”, “business-friendly”, “open”, “outward-looking”, “open for business”, “global” and “dynamic”. However, the prominence of unfamiliar units in the public realm as seen by visitors to the UK portrays a completely different image, at odds with that which ministers are promoting abroad. So what kind of impression do visitors to the UK get from our continued use of medieval units?

Roads are one of the most visible areas where medieval units are used. Let’s suppose our visitor to the UK drives or travels on our roads and is not from the USA (the only other developed country that uses non-metric road signs). Here are some typical signs our visitor is likely to see.

Verbose_Restriction_Sign1Third_of_a_mile_Wales_UKMAServices10m_UK_sign_UKMA

So how would we expect our visitor to understand these signs? Our visitor will see something like 7′ 0″ for a width or height restriction. Hold on, don’t the single and double quotes stand for minutes and seconds of arc. No, not here! They are actually feet and inches, more likely than not to be utterly meaningless to our visitor, especially one from a country where such units are not used. And what about “yds”? What on earth does that stand for? Could it be “you don’t say”? Our visitor sees the sign showing fractions of a mile and probably wonders why the Brits refuse to use metres and kilometres for distances on our roads, units used on road signs in almost all other countries. The mile is now mainly confined to the UK and the USA. Our visitor sees the sign showing “Services 10 m” and wonders why the service station is not close to the sign. He or she is probably thinking, “Surely, the sign says that the service station is 10 metres ahead.” The “m” is used elsewhere for metres. Wrong! The service station is 10 miles ahead. Apparently, only the DfT uses “m” for miles.

After a journey on British roads, our visitor goes shopping and sees units like the ones shown here.

CanaryWharf_acresFruit_lb_piece_pricing

What is this sign about “Canary Wharf’s 128 Acre Private Estate”? Our visitor asks us, “What on earth is an acre and how big is it?”. Most Brits have no idea how big an acre is, a point made by the title of Dr Metric’s (Alan Young’s) publication, “How Big is an Acre? No-one knows”. A market stallholder prices the fruit and veg by the “lb” or perhaps by “#”. Our visitor wonders what “lb” is, what it stands for and how heavy it is. Perhaps “#” could mean kilo? He is surprised when he receives only four apples not nine for his 99 pence.

Some native Britons joke with him. They give him their suggestions such as “Little Britain”, “loose bags”, “low band”, “liberty”, “loopy barmy” and “lost boys”. Come off it, says our visitor, it must have something to do with quantities. They then tell him what it really stands for. It stands for “libra”, and is a relic from the days of the Roman occupation. How many Brits know that? Not many I suspect. Our visitor reacts, asking “Isn’t libra a star sign used in astrology?”. Correct, but libra is Latin for pound. ” Pound?” Our visitor says, “I only know of currencies called pounds. I have not heard of pounds used for weighing stuff. Pounds are not used for weighing in my country. I have no idea how heavy a pound is. And ounces. What are they? Are there ten ounces to a pound?”

Our visitor is taken on a walk around the city and sees the following signs.

Railway use of miles and chainseuston_info_yards

The oval sign is typically found at railway structures such as bridges. Our visitor sees this sign and wonders what on earth does “WLL 25 3M 45 CH”. It means nothing to me, says our visitor. What are these letters and numbers all about? Our visitor sees an information sign near an underground station exit and sighs, “Here we go again with this ‘yds’ nonsense. They might as well have written this sign in hieroglyphics. I have no idea what ‘yds’ means. I never see this in my country. I have no idea how far any of these places are.” Even an American will not expect yards to appear other than on a (US) football pitch.

Our visitors wonder if the muddle extends to common measuring equipment and finds the following typical products on sale:

Dual_DIY_Metal_Tape

Dual_Kitchen_ScaleFour_Unit_Measuring_JugDual_Thermometer

Our visitor complains, “What is this? Dual measuring equipment is cluttered, hard to read and often awkward to use. How many different systems of measurement do you need to measure a quantity of anything? Where I come from, we only use one. The one we use is metric. In my country, all measuring equipment is exclusively metric. Why do you cling to all these medieval units when metric will do the job so much better?”

Dual_Let_Notice

Our visitor looks for some office space for a business and sees extensive use of acres and square feet by estate agents. Is this foot the same as the one used on road signs? Do “ft” and ” ‘ ” mean the same thing?

Beer_1_pint

Our visitor goes to a pub for a business meeting with us and sees us ordering pints and half-pints of beer. Our visitor tells us that they do not use pints in his country and asks us what a pint is. Our visitor notices that the labels on the empty bottles left on the tables by other customers show millilitres and litres and wonders why pubs do not serve draught beer in millilitres and litres. We tell our visitor that it is against the law for them to do so. Why? What is the sense in that? We reply that we don’t know either and agree that it is an anomaly we cannot explain.

Finally, our visitor watches some television and reads some newspapers to find out more about the general business environment in the UK to help our visitor make some business plans and final decisions about what investments to make in the UK. Our visitor notices loads of odd, alien, medieval units used in the British media (as well as many metric ones), has no idea what they are and tells us that these units are not used back home. Our visitor asks us about the British media’s logic in their seemingly random mix of metric and medieval units. Our visitor tells us that the media back home only use metric units and that there is no measurement muddle there.

Our visitor concludes that contrary to the claims of leading ministers about the UK, the country is stuck in the past and has failed to modernise like the rest of the world. Our units suggest that the UK is old-fashioned, medieval, backward and still living in the imperial past. Perhaps the Tourist Boards, promoting a country of thatched cottages, dreaming spires, Midsomer Murders and Beefeaters in medieval costume at the Tower have it right, and ministers are bluffing.

In the Foreword to the UKMA publication, Metric Signs Ahead, Lord Kinnock of Bedwellty said in 2006:

“40 years after Britain first started to go officially metric, there is one important area in which we are still living in the imperial past. We see this in the muddle of measurement units in use in the United Kingdom. Our road signs are a perhaps the most obvious example and they contradict the image – and the reality – of our country as a modern, multicultural, dynamic place where the past is valued and respected and the future is approached with creativity and confidence.”

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35 Responses to Continued use of medieval units damages UK’s image abroad

  1. Bodrules says:

    Well the article convinced me of one thing, foreigners need to be tested before being allowed on our roads.

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  2. Michael Glass says:

    Unless remedial action is taken, this is a problem that will increase over time. 50 years ago you could just about guarantee that all English=speaking people would understand the old units. That is not the case today. Successive generations of young people in Australia, New Zealand and other countries have grown up with little or no familiarity with many of the older units.

    Units that are particularly vulnerable to this are Fahrenheit temperatures (increasingly confined to the US) and the stone weight (now a UK speciality). However, other old units are also losing ground.

    In Australia, the mile has disappeared from day to day conversation. Mountains and hills are now thought of in metres. The fact that someone might be described as a six-footer doesn't mean that the speaker has any clear idea of how tall a five or seven footer would be, or even someone who is five foot ten. Also, the fact that someone knows that an ounce and a pound are weights does not mean that they have any clear idea of their relationship.

    For an example of how confusing the old units can be for an Australian, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUUfbeKCPJ8

    For an example of how confusing metric measures can be for an American, see
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5q4FjKU3tFw

    Seriously, though, we don't need confusion on the roads.

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  3. BrianAC says:

    @ Bodrules says: 2016-09-05 at 23:40

    It seems by the same 'rules of engagement' then, all UK drivers should be banned from the roads of every other country in the world bar USA unless they can pass an equivalent metric 'test'.
    That should go down well.

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  4. Daniel says:

    @ Bodrules

    And if they fail the test then what? Ban them from entry? What if they are business people looking to trade?

    And what about UK citizens who don't know imperial? A lot of younger ones don't?

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  5. Daniel says:

    Pre-metric measuring words are still in use in most countries. But, they have all been redefined, at least non-officially, to rounded metric values. They have no legal status.

    Where a foreign visitor would be confused, is why the pre-metric measuring words are not set to rounded metric values, like 500 g for the pound and why the pound still appears in advertisments instead of kilograms or worse yet, why some shops are fully metric and others aren't. The inability to compare pricing between shops would be seen as unacceptable.

    A foreign visitor may understand the use of the word mile among the population in a slang sense but would not understand why it is officially used on road signs. Swedes still speak in "miles" but miles are never on road signs and the Swedish mile is set to 10 km, so a 150 km journey is 15 miles in common speech.

    A foreign visitor would not understand why measuring instruments are dual instead of metric only. They would see this as adding to confusion and creating a situation where mistakes are easily made.

    A foreign visitor may understand the colloquial use of pre-metric metric measuring words, but would not understand nor wish to deal with people or institutions where metric is not or claimed not to be understood. If in conversations the topic of mass, height, distance, etc are brought up, the visitor would not be comfortable if metric units are not understood. Especially if a visitor travels the world, encounters different cultures and different languages and yet everywhere metric is understood even if pre-metric measuring words have been recycled.

    A foreign visitor on business would be turned off to a population that claims not to understand metric units and will see this as a reason not to do business or see a major issue of quality in products where the work force is unable to work in a normal fashion and with ease in metric units.

    You can keep the old words, but they have to be completely removed from legal status, allowed to take on new metric friendly meanings in common speech and never appear in writing on signs and advertisments. The user of these words must always be the one burdened with understanding what they mean and must be able to communicate and understand metric units when encountered and where required.

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  6. Ezra Steinberg says:

    This article makes clear how much of a muddle there still is in the UK. So sad because it is so unnecessary and easy to fix given how much ground metric has gained in Old Blighty in the last 50 years.

    I am reminded of how much further behind we are here in the USA while watching a Discovery Channel show on arctic dinosaurs from last year. All of the scientists used metric exclusively for lengths, weights, and temperatures. It was only the American narrator who always used "Imperial" (and exclusively at that, with no addition of metric units at all).

    I guess the one way we are ahead over here is that metric road signs are legal . However, they are essentially non-existent, so no real bragging rights for us there.

    It would be nice for us in the USA if the UK really did finish up metrication and get to the same place that Australia is. So many Americans do business or visiting as tourists would surely see a fully metricated UK as a wake-up call for us to metricate here in the States as well. After all, if the mother of Imperial units (Britain) is seen to have fully metricated, it would surely motivate us over here to get on with it as well (lest we be left behind for good).

    So, take heart, lads! As King Henry said to his troops (according to Shakespeare): "Once more unto the breach!"

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  7. jackthesmilingblack says:

    Surely the abbreviation of "yards" is yd (not yds).
    Kids today, what would you do with um!

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  8. Charlie P says:

    @Michael Glass

    What problem "will increase over time"? Being multilingual wrt basic everyday weights and measures unit multipliers isn't a problem - it's a benefit. This is especially true in a country with the population size, cultural diversity, ethnic diversity, social diversity, age diversity and educational diversity of the UK.

    The UK is one of the biggest players (and fully metric capable) in global aerospace, automotive and other technology markets, so clearly isn't hampered by having these skills. Surely we aren't saying we want the state to override public opinion in areas unrelated to retail trade transactions? I'm not even sure they should override public opinion in areas which are related retail trade transactions - or any other unit multiplier related area for that matter.

    Market forces and industry preferences brought about the metrication of British industry and commerce in the 1970s. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater now, some 40 years later, for some minority-supported dogmatic idealism.

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  9. Hn Maenen says:

    That blue sign saying 'width restriction 7'0'' 273 yds ahead', looks very bizarre. I am tempted to think that is is in fact 300 yards, that it was then converted to 273 m, and then it was called 273 yds.
    Editor: Could be 250 m.

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  10. Modernman says:

    What is this sign about “Canary Wharf’s 128 Acre Private Estate”? Our visitor asks us, “What on earth is an acre and how big is it?”
    A visitor wouldn't even know that an acre is a unit of measurement in this context, '128 Acre' could just as easily be the name of a company.

    Good article though. All this talk about the UK being open for business, looking to the future, etc., when in reality we're as backward-looking as ever!

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  11. Mark Williams says:

    @Bodrules:

    Better to cure the disease than relieve the symptom. Especially if we are now claiming to have a clean bill of health!

    Of course, if the natives can't convincingly pull off our new progressive image while the world is watching then it's pretty clear who is in need of any such testing...

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  12. Lee kelly says:

    I'm a believer that if you don't force people to change they will change by themselves. Judging by the conversation on R2 last wk the majority of people phoning and msg in was most people don't want to go back to imperial

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  13. John Steele says:

    @BrianAC

    Well, I don't know about "except the US". A short test for UK drivers:
    *What side of the road do we drive on?
    *Which way do we go around rotaries?
    * Keep ______?
    *Can you handle the metric signs on I-19 in Arizona (and occasionally elsewhere)?
    NOTE: Do not deface. They are legal here.
    *The proper abbreviation for mile is __?
    *Weight limits are in ______ tons?

    But not being able to drive in most of the Commonwealth would certainly be a wake-up call.

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  14. Michael Glass says:

    Charlie,

    Here are some obvious problems:

    Bridge strikes: It's a serious problem that is increased when people don't understand the signs. Your government had to deal with this issue by providing dual metric/imperial signs.

    Rip-offs: Milk being sold by both the litre and the pint. This was noted by the BWMA: http://www.bwmaonline.com/Metric%20Downsizing.htm

    Confusion in shopping: Men's belts on a rack, some labelled SM, M, L, XL and so on while others are labelled in centimetres. At another shop, the belts are labelled in inches. Trousers with their waist measurements in centimetres and other trousers and jeans with their waist measurements in inches.

    Confusion in real estate: rural land advertised sometimes in acres, sometimes in hectares and sometimes in both (with the occasional mismatch between the acres and the hectares.)

    Bolts and screws in both metric and non-metric sizes.

    Shoes in three different sizes: UK, American and Continental.

    Baby bottles with three different scales: UK fluid ounces, US fluid ounces and millilitres.

    It's about time to sweep away this confusion and use just one measuring system.

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  15. BrianAC says:

    John Steele says: 2016-09-15 at 11:22 @BrianAC
    Point taken, I only pointed out the metric bit. We could also include " Turn indicators are for ______ ? " But that would be sarcastic!
    I think the "rotaries" one would have me flummoxed for a few ms, otherwise know as roundabouts.
    I am beginning to think that many in UK really do believe that metric measures are only used in the EU and Europe.

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  16. Martin Vlietstra says:

    Most German visitors would register the word "acre" as being very smilar to their own word "akker" which means "field" and they would be quite right - the English word "acre" and the German word "akker" have the same root meaning "field". The difference however is that the English word was used as a unit of measure (the amount of land that could be ploughed in a day - approximately 4000 square metres) whereas the pre-metric Germans used the word "morgen" (the amount of land that could be ploughed in a morning - typically 2000 to 3000 square metres depending on the locality) to describe land area.

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  17. Daniel says:

    @ Lee:

    People will eventually change only when they tire of back converting. You have to get rid of any exposure to imperial or any pre-SI unit and make it as difficult as possible for people to function in the old units. Most will change to avoid the difficulty, others will have to wait for the grave to solve their issue.

    The media is anti-metric and for the most part will only give space to the metric haters to give the impression that everyone wants to return to imperial. If the population supporting metric would boycott the anti-metric press and openly protest in front of their offices, they may see the light and switch sides.

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  18. Daniel says:

    @ John Steele

    When you refer to "we" are you referring to the US or the UK? A UK driver asking himself *What side of the road do WE drive on?" would have to answer "The left side".

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  19. Daniel says:

    @ Han

    UK distances are measured in metres and sign posts are placed to rounded metre locations. In most cases where rounded yards are shown, the actual distance is the number in metres. For example, a distance of 300 m would appear on the sign as 300 yards.

    In this case, the sign was placed at 250 m from the intended point and converted to 273 yards. It would never have started out as 300 yards, but 300 m and it would have then been signed as 300 yards or if converted it would have been 328 yards. Even if they got it backwards, 300 m would be 274 yards not 273.

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  20. jackthesmilingblack says:

    Ask a liberal arts Muppet to convert square yards into square metres.
    And what about the abbreviation for miles per hour (mph)?
    m isn't the abbreviation for mile(s). m is the abbreviation for metre(s).
    p, per means divide by, although / would be preferable.
    and h? The abbreviation for hour is hr.
    So in summation, mi/hr.
    Bottom line, Brits have yet to master the imperial measurement system.

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  21. Charlie P says:

    Daniel is correct, the UK is a fully capable country in terms of using the metric system. Most trading, commerce, science, government, technology, engineering and education is done entirely in metric.

    Where the British people appear to differ from the people of many other metricated nations though is that when they aren't working, most of them tend to prefer to use familiar imperial measures for everyday activities. If that preference extends to how they choose to do their own shopping or even how they sell in their own grocery shop, then why not? Unlike many, even most, other Commonwealth countries, the UK do not have to prove anything by "casting off a legacy of colonialism" as Martin described the motivation for the metrication of some African countries in another close-by thread here.

    And that expression of free choice is what seems to annoy so many contributors here (including those who are not British for some inexplicable reason), and the sole purpose of UKMA seems to be to try to undermine it by mandating something that is simply not required and which will make no difference to the already world-class metric capability and metric trading interface with the rest of the world that the UK has.

    The ruthless stamping-out of such proud British culture and traditions is so unnecessary and would be grossly wasteful too.

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  22. Martin Vlietstra says:

    @CharlieP – In any market situation, the market organiser sets the rules by which the market operates and in setting the rules he should ensure that buyer and seller use the same language. For example, in the wholesale markets, oil is traded by the barrel, gold by the troy ounce and copper by the tonne. In our domestic markets it is the government who sets the rules, not the traders nor the customers. This ensures that that there is a level playing field.

    If you read Ken Alder's book "The measure of all things", the first thing that you will find out is that in pre-revolutionary France, the traders were allowed to define the units of measure that they used and they really ripped the peasant off. One of the consequences was that when the French Revolution broke out, units of measurement was high on the agenda for reform. In Britain the Magna Carta ordained that "there shall be one system of measure throughout the realm". Why are you trying to sabotage this?

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  23. Michael Glass says:

    There are areas where "free choice" is not in the public interest.

    * Allowing people to choose whether to wear seat belts or not results in more deaths on the roads. (Only one survived the car crash that killed Princess Diana. The three others did not wear their seat belts.)

    * Allowing traders to choose whether to use pounds and ounces or grams and kilograms is a recipe for confusion and rip-offs.

    Charlie has appealed to British patriotism, but I believe that this is misplaced. The UK is no less the UK for using the metric system in most trading commerce, science, government, technology, engineering and education. It is no less the UK because shop scales are supposed to be in grams and kilograms.

    The Light Brigade may have charged half a league onwards, but the league is now history. "Fahrenheit 451" is the name of a book, but Celsius temperatures are increasingly used. Modern recipes are now metric. Dual height and width signs are now mandatory on British roads, with the metric measures on top. Millimetre by agonising millimetre, British people are slowly increasing in their use of metric measures.

    Britishness is no more threatened by metric measures than any other change that has happened in the last five hundred years.

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  24. Cliff says:

    Charlie P,
    Metrology has nothing to do with culture and tradition.
    Metrology is a science, the science of measurement. Tradition is the handing down of beliefs from one generation to another. Science advances knowledge by questioning the beliefs of the past and finding better ways to do things, tradition passes the beliefs on unquestioningly whether they're right or wrong. Science and tradition are mutually exclusive.
    You talk of a proud British culture. British culture from the industrial revolution until late in the twentieth century thrived by embracing science. Giving preference to tradition over modernity has dire consequences. If the Luddites had their way we would still be weaving by hand and ploughing the fields with horses or oxen. For me a proud British culture looks to the future, it doesn't wallow in the past.
    The International System of measurement is infinitely superior to the Customary/Imperial measurement method which is why industry uses it and why the world uses it. If people choose to ignore that fact and continue using not what's best, but what tradition dictates to them they're entitled to. But please don't enforce the inferior method on everyone else. If people want to continue giving their height to each other in feet, fathoms or I-phones it's up to them but the State really needs to have just one established method of measurement for intercommunication.It should be made mandatory by the government and it should be the one that's best.

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  25. Charlie P says:

    @Martin Vlietstra

    Competition regulators might require prices to be stated per a particular unit to allow price comparisons - and there is nothing wrong with that. That would make life easier for those trying to compare prices where in one shop meat is priced per 100g and in another per kilo, or even in the same shop where some apples are priced per unit and others per kilo or per pound. But that is an entirely different discussion to the one about which units you should be allowed to buy and sell in. I might consider new season British Cox's apples to be good value in a shop selling them at £2.19 per kilo, and happily ask for 1lb of them. Whether the grocer weighs them out as 1lb or as 454g I wouldn't care - they would still cost 99p. Can you give me a rational reason why I should not be allowed to do that?

    Your point about the situation in pre-revolutionary France and the Magna Carta either betrays your ignorance of the present-day imperial system and of the Magna Carta or is an attempt to mislead...

    The essential issue with the situation in pre-revolutionary France was that the definition of units there varied from place to place and even from trader to trader. That is completely different to the situation in the UK where no such inconsistency exists: six inches is exactly the same length, whether you are in Skarfskerry, Lizard, Lowestoft or Grigadale.

    If we look at clause 38 of the Magna Carta in full (rather than at your abridged version) - "There is to be one measure of wine throughout our kingdom, and one measure of ale, and one measure of corn, namely the quarter of London, and one breadth of dyed, russet and haberget cloths, that is, two ells within the borders; and let weights be dealt with as with measures." - we see that it specifies the "quarter of London" and the "ell" as the permissible units of measure. If we assume that we are looking at the spirit of the clause rather than at the letter of it (as I doubt you believe we should use only the quarter and the ell) we will quickly realise that the modern-day equivalent is that permissible units must be defined with respect to a single central standard. As both imperial and metric units are defined in relation to the same BIPM standards, then the use of both or either would clearly comply with the spirit of the Magna Carta. King John would be proud of the current situation in the UK.

    Finally, although we might have different perspectives on this, for you to describe my observations as an attempt to sabotage something is an overreaction, to say the least!

    Ref: http://magnacarta.cmp.uea.ac.uk/read/magna_carta_1215/Clause_35

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  26. Cliff says:

    Charlie P.
    I still can't get over how you think that mandating a modern, world-class system of measurement is stamping out culture and tradition. That is such an arrogant attitude.
    Do you think that the rest of the world has no culture or tradition? Does France, Italy or Greece have no culture or tradition in your eyes because they use a proper system of measurement rather than a ragbag of compromised units handed down to them by ancient conquerers? How about India or China? No significant tradition there?
    Japan has a very strong culture that is steeped in tradition but they managed to change from the shakkanh? method of measurement to the metric system without losing any of it. There was resistance in Japan by right-wing nationalists when the country made the first steps to convert to metric measures in 1924. The nationalists feared the adoption of metric units would result in a loss of Japanese identity and stalled the process for as long as they could. It was that kind of crazy insular nationalistic mindset that took the country into World War Two. Use of the old Japanese units was forbidden completely for any official purposes in 1966. The people of Japan have had road signs in kilometres and weighed themselves in kilograms for many years just like 95% of the rest of the world. And they still have their ancient culture and their traditions

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  27. Colin Ri says:

    A Kenyan minister I met on visiting the UK could not understand why there were signs showing services in so many m but there were none in sight. He obviously failed to realise that it referred to miles. I suspect that he thought that the British were quaint.

    I remember an Australian visitor writing to the pro imperial "This England" magazine complaining that the road map he was using was in km but the signs were all in non-metric measurements. The magazine's response was "When in Rome...".

    It just does no seem to have occurred to the imperialists as to why the entire word apart from USA, Burma and Liberia have metricated. I can only guess that they operate under the delusion that Britain still has an empire and are stuck sometime in the 19th Century.

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  28. Michael Glass says:

    Charlie,

    Your comments go directly against a situation that I faced as a consumer only recently. On one rack in a local store there was a range of belts. Some were labelled in centimetres and others were labelled S, M L, XL and so on. That was not helpful.

    Ditto for trousers and jeans. Some are labelled in centimetres, some in inches and some in both. Not helpful.

    When it comes to shopping and consumer protection we really do need one measure, not two or three.

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  29. m says:

    I'm sure the rest of the world are baffled why we would want to leave the single market of the EU without having any kind of a plan for the future. It must be equally baffling when they hear that there are calls in this country to revert to medieval measurements.

    http://www.torontosun.com/2016/08/31/first-brexit-now-brits-want-to-leave-the-metric-system

    If the Government wants to live up to their words of our country being "open-for-business", "modern" and "global", they need to nip this in the bud quickly. The simplest and most visible thing that could be done would be to upgrade our road signs to use standard international measurement units. Does any driver under 60 even know how many yards are in a mile any way?

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  30. Rob says:

    The UK must be almost the only place in the whole world to use just miles on distance road signs. (The US uses miles and km)
    What other countries use just miles?

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  31. Stan says:

    We keep seeing remarks here about imperial units being part of British culture and, by implication, any attempt to phase them out as being Philistine.

    So why does this notion of culture come into a debate about measurement units?

    I have tried to understand this and to help I looked up the word 'culture' in a dictionary. There are of course several meanings but the one that seems to be the most applicable from the way it is being applied here is:

    "The tastes in art and manners that are favoured by a social group".

    We are probably talking about language here. Imperial unit names are part of it e.g. "inching towards", "miles away" and some classical literature such as "a pound of flesh".

    OK I guess it would be heavy handed, impractical and unnecessary to actively discourage things like that, and it would be ridiculous to try and rewrite Shakespeare.

    However we are not talking about that here are we?

    The debate here is about a proper changeover to metric units as the default system for measurement purposes. That means when we deal with hard data and its practical applications. It has nothing to do with expression, taste or manners.

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  32. Jake says:

    Rob wrote: "The UK must be almost the only place in the whole world to use just miles on distance road signs"

    And then the UK adds to the confusion by using the international metric symbol 'm' (for metre) to mean 'miles'. I am convinced the people at the DfT really have little idea of signage in the rest of Europe, let alone anywhere further afield, and how stupid this use of 'm' looks to most people who learnt metric at school or come from an exclusively metric country, i.e. who come from anywhere except the UK and the USA.

    I had a discussion on this subject with an English guy once. He maintained that the imperial road signs were for the people of Britain (and by implication that if you did not like that you should not go to Britain). I actually thought that road signs had to be comprehensible to anybody who uses the roads as a driver, cyclist or even a pedestrian. I expect a foreigner could make a reasonable defence of claiming that he did not understand English on a sign but I have my doubts whether a judge would accept that he did not understand the funny numbers on a sign either.

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  33. Ezra Steinberg says:

    So, the government cannot find the money to convert road signs to metric but it can find the money, not only to rationalize (decimalize) the country's currency from pounds-shilling-pence back in 1971, but it can again find the money to update the coinage when it sees a rational basis for the change:

    http://www.bbc.com/news/business-37820622

    Such is the irrationality of government policy when political considerations dominate that it can understand the need to sort out the one (currency) but not the other (the metric muddle, in particular, road signs).

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  34. Jay Wick says:

    Keep imperial. NO METRIC!!!

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  35. Mark Williams says:

    @Jay Wick:

    Thank you for the clear argument that there should be no more than one system of measurement for all purposes. Unless you are also proposing to forcibly stop others measuring electricity and magnetism, etc.; metric it shall have to be!

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