We have come across two examples of hybrid measures, and speculate if these might help in those countries struggling with the transition from old to new measures.
Metric Views feeds off the news, which has been dominated in recent months by Brexit. For our bloggers, there have been very slim pickings. This is likely to continue for some time – discussions on the UK’s future relationships with the EU and with the rest of the world have yet to begin. But the need to resolve the UK’s measurement muddle is not going to go away, even though many prefer to ignore it.
MV will continue to provide comment on measurement issues, with or without the help of the UK media. This week we draw attention to two attempts to steer a path between medieval and modern measurement systems.
TV buffs may be familiar with this web site dealing with the history of TV studios in Britain:
In the section covering the BBC Television Centre, there appears this comment:
“Where possible I have quoted sizes within fire lanes and in feet or ‘metric feet’ where applicable. This curious measurement was adopted by the BBC and is 30 cm in length. (If you think back to your old school rulers, they had 12 inches on one side and 30 cm, which is very slightly less, on the other.) It does mean that a studio that is marked as 90 metric feet long is actually 88ft 6ins long.”
Wikipedia tells us more:
“A metric foot is a nickname for a preferred number length of 3 basic modules (3 M), or 30 centimetres (11.811 in). The 30 cm metric ruler was a similar length to the traditional imperial one-foot ruler. A metric foot is 4.8 millimetres (0.189 in) shorter than an imperial foot.
Although the term “metric foot” is still occasionally used in the United Kingdom, in particular in the timber trade, dimensions are most likely to be quoted exclusively in metric units today.
The sizes of the studios at BBC Television Centre in London, which opened in 1960, are specified and measured in metric feet, in contrast to film stages where imperial feet and inches prevail.”
One suspects that, 60 years on, the BBC has dropped this hybrid, though it lives on in my local timber yard.
However, another is to be found in the kitchen, in the instructions for my Morphy Richards ‘Essentials’ breadmaker. These instructions include Helpline telephone numbers and contact details in the UK and Ireland so are clearly intended for use on this side of the pond. But all the recipes are given in “cups”. So what is a “cup”? The instructions provide this explanation:
“The measuring cup is based on the American standard 8 fluid oz cup – British cup is 10 fluid oz.”
Noting that 1 US fluid ounce is 29.6 mL, hence 1 US cup is 237 mL, where does this leave the would-be British bread baker?
Having recently mislaid the cup supplied with the breadmaker, I headed off to Sainsbury’s, who stock a splendid set of chromium-plated steel measures marked as follows:
“1 cup (250 mL)”, “½ cup (125 mL)”, “1/3 cup (80 mL)” and “¼ cup (60 mL)”.
And the bread baked using these hybrid measures? Excellent.
But is there a future for hybrids such as these? In countries where the use of metric measures is well established, one suspects not. Even in fields where US influence dominates, for example in the description of TV, monitor, laptop and mobile phone screens, it is medieval inches not metric inches that are used.
But, around the world, what about the laggards in the adoption of modern measures, in particular the UK and the USA? Is there scope for the use of hybrids to ease the transition, and appease the traditionalists. A metric pint of 500 mL conveniently lying between the Imperial and US pints? A metric inch of 25 mm? The experience of France with ‘measures usuelles’ between 1812 and 1840 suggests they might only serve as stepping stones and are best avoided. Do readers agree?