Recent experience in France and Greece and a comment last week by Charlie P on this site has prompted us to ask if it would be better if supporters of metric measures were less pedantic.
In January 2014, UKMA wrote to James Harding, then Director of BBC News and Current Affairs. The letter included the following:
“You will probably be aware that SI, commonly known as the metric system, is used around the world, and is the primary system of measurement in two hundred or so countries. Rules for SI are agreed internationally, and if these rules are followed, then the information will be widely understood – “50 km” has the same meaning, not only in languages that use the Latin alphabet, but also in, for example, Greek, Russian and Arabic and in Hindi, Mandarin and Japanese.
The section of the BBC news style guide headed “Weights and measures” has recommendations that depart from the internationally agreed rules.”
Harding took the trouble to provide a carefully considered reply:
His third and fourth paragraphs are particularly relevant to this article.
We were reminded of this correspondence during a recent visit to France. We encountered several instances of less-than-perfect examples of metric use, including this on a pack of green beans:
An Englishman, John Wilkins FRS, may be the father of the world’s decimal system of measures. But France is definitely its mother. France, surprisingly, took almost as long to adopt the metric system as the UK is taking, but the job was largely completed over a century ago. If a rather relaxed attitude to the rules of SI is found in France, then perhaps we should not be concerned when this happens here, as suggested by Mr Harding.
And it is not only in France that SI rules are occasionally ignored. In Greece last week, we noticed an abbreviation for ‘litre’ rather than a symbol and, oddly, in the Latin not the Greek alphabet:
Charlie P went further in his recent comment on this site:
“What is the point in being pedantic about this when the system is impossible to comply with in all cases … Better, I think, to lobby for a more user-friendly system, and perhaps then it will also be better received.”
A more user-friendly system. Such as?
What do readers think?
The heading of this article is a variant on a well-known phrase which is considered in this Wikipedia article:
The use of measurement units in the media was considered in a post on Metric Views on 2015-01-16. This provoked a lively debate with 40 comments.