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We Don’t Have Inches

October 30, 2016

Metric conversion in Canada began in 1970, over 40 years ago.  It wasn’t abandoned, but it stopped at the transition phase, the worst possible place.  The party in power at the time found it too politically volatile to continue.  Stopping at the transition meant that industries could use either system, at their convenience.  Some of them continued the conversion to the metric system.  Retailers, however, generally adopted the smallest units, because that made prices appear lower.  Signs in the produce department of grocery stores, for example, show both prices per pound and prices per kilogram, but the pound prices are much larger, and also much lower.  Customers only look at the pound prices.  In the delicatessan department, however, prices are only per 100 grams.  Customers seem satisfied with those.  People like whatever they become accustomed to.

Many things have happened since 1970.  Other countries have converted to the metric system, leaving the US as the only major country still using traditional units.  They seem to have no appetite to change this situation.  Another thing that happened is that devices can now display anything in either metric or traditional units.  All of my digital thermometers, for example, have a switch to select either Celsius degrees or Fahrenheit degrees.  Other devices have scales for both units.

Whenever I see something expressed in inches, feet, gallons, or pounds, my first reaction is to say to myself “We don’t have inches in the country”.  Police reports are the worst offender.  They describe a suspect’s height only in feet and inches, and their weight only in pounds.  I have no idea what either of those means.  I suppose the police assume that most people do know.

The thing that I find most amusing is when car dealers advertize the MPG (miles per gallon) of their automobiles.  The car’s odometer doesn’t display miles: only kilometers.  We can’t buy a gallon of gasoline in this country: only a litre of gas.  It’s a big number, though.  I suppose that big numbers sell cars.  My car uses 7 litres per 100 Km on the highway.  Small is better in that system.  Small numbers probably don’t sell cars.

I cringe when I see headlines like “Inflation inches higher”.  There’s no need to use an old-fashioned unit here.  Couldn’t the headline writers at least use neutral words, such as “Inflation creeps higher”?

I’ve been using the metric system for the last 40 years.  I’m so happy to be rid of all those fractions of inches.  Is 9/16 larger or smaller than 1/2?  I don’t care anymore.  I’m so happy to be rid of ounces and fluid ounces too.  I use metric everywhere I can.  I know my own height and weight only in metric units now.  When I measure something around the house, I use only cm and mm.  I would welcome a revival of Canada’s metric conversion process now, although I don’t expect it to happen unless the US converts, or hell freezes over.  Perhaps these will happen at about the same time.


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