Tuesday, September 11, 2007

So will the UK ever finish metrication?

It was announced today that the European Union is no longer going to require the UK to completely move to the metric system by one deadline or another. (BBC News: EU gives up on 'metric Britain') In future the decision will be entirely down to the UK government.

In one sense this is a victory for the UK's right to make the decision for itself. It might also prove beneficial to those who want to see metrication properly enacted, since it removes the EU from the entire debate. The way some people go on about wanting to keep imperial measurements you could be mistaken for thinking that "Brussels" is the reason for their objection, not the merits of using one system of measurements over another. Or, in the UK's case, using one mishmash of two systems.

Because let's be honest - despite what some of the more anti-metric campaigners claim, the UK does not "use imperial measurements" in the exclusive way the US does. For example at the foot of my desk there is a bottle of Irn Bru. And how is its volume displayed? None other than "2 Litre". And in the small print the amount of carbohydrates is given in grams. Other than draught beer, cider (and other drinks in pubs) and milk virtually all drinks are done by the litre. (Even milk is sort of going that way - the bottle in my fridge says 2.272 litres first, then 4 pints. Most prepackaged food is similarly sold by the kilogram, not the pound.

But turn to distances and signs in this country are given in miles. Speedometers give speed in both miles per hour and kilometres per hour, but the former is used for legal speed limits.

Then we come to what's taught in schools and the answer is metric. But many children find their parents using imperial measurements and get dragged into using the older system. I always give my weight in kilos and my height in metres - and indeed don't know what they are in stones and feet respectively - but many find it odd that I do nothing more than give my weight and height the way I was taught to.

Metrication is already in heavy use in this country. But so too are imperial measurements. And the result is a confusing mess.

It's all very well to talk about "choice" but a system of measurements is a commonly used and understand system for conveying information, a language if you will. Do I have the right to start selling stuff in a totally new system of measurements? Surely the consumer's right to comprehension and protection against being ripped off takes precedence and demands that there is a commonly understood and enforced standard?

That common standard is currently undermined by the failure to use one single set of measurements in this country. Now what's easier to teach - a system that uses the same numeric base as the numbering system, or one based on numerous inconsistencies and illogical bases? Why are there sixteen ounces to the pound but only fourteen pounds to the stone? Clearly metrication is the more workable system.

But will it happen? This country's been considering it for nearly two hundred years and keeps putting it off. Whilst there now won't be the problem of having to overcome resistance to "diktats from Brussels", I suspect it will be quite a while before the necessary task is finished.


Anonymous said...

Well said Tim. Just one factual point to pick you up on - all drinks in pubs except for beer and cidre are sold in metric measures.
I would give it 5 years before the government restarts the metrication programme that was stopped by Margaret Thatcher's government as a reaction against European integration. With a bit of luck we'll start hearing about it after the next election. Here's hoping!

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

You may be right on paper but on the ground I've found all drinks on tap in bars come by the pint - it's usually "a pint of coke" that gets served. (Although I have had some bar staff say "we don't serve coke by the pint" which is just plain confusing.) And how on earth is one supposed to sell shandy or red beer?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...