Our clock radio wakes us a few minutes before the 6am ABC bulletin. On Saturday, a guest of the anglers’ program The Big Fish, was waxing lyrical about a catch where he described the length of a monster in centimetres but the weight in pounds. How bizarre is this I thought, and took to the wisdom of the twitterverse to get other examples of imperial measure holdouts.
Here are some recalcitrants.
- TV screens. “Wow, how big is that one? It’s a 65””
- Food energy expressed in calories instead of joules
- Birthweights “he was a big boy! 8lbs 13 oz!”
- Height (especially in the very tall or very short “Collingwood ruckman Mason Cox towers at just under 7 feet” – not 211cm)
- Tyre pressure in PSI pounds per square inch
- Tyre width (man, 18” mag wheels!”
- Wave height, especially when large
- Boat and wind speed in knots
- Rainfall in inches (generally now appended as “3 inches in the old system”
- Altitude (“we’re cruising at 36,000 feet”)
- McDonalds quarter pounder
- Penis length (“Mate, I’ve got 12” but I don’t use it as a rule”)
- Female figures (“36, 24, 35” as the Cookies sang in Girls Grow Up Faster than Boys in 1964)
- Sewing pattern instructions
- Burial (Six feet, not two metres under)
Australia commenced metrification in 1966, 57 years ago. The Metric Conversion Board was convened by an act of parliament in 1970, and dissolved in 1981, 42 years ago. Only three nations (that law unto itself the USA, and those beacons of progressive everything Myanmar and Liberia) still cling to imperial measures.
Fifty two percent of the Australian population are aged less than 40, and so were born after the formal drive to metrification ended. But the examples above (please notify me of more to add) show holdouts remain stubbornly common.
So why do we cling to these throw-backs? Some seem redolent with a sense that imperial measures carry a more elemental truth when it comes to serious shit talk about monster waves, biblical storms, robotic face-stuffing gluttony when it comes to hamburgers, and man-cave talk about cars, or wow factor in height or apocryphal locker room penis length.
It’s as if when talk turns to excess, imperial trumps metric. Sewing instructions might just be market research that finds most of those who sew are older. Calories is enveloped in the guilt-ridden discourse about obsessing about weight loss, while joules sounds like all-too-difficult science chatter and seems destined to be the last throwback standing.
I can get my head around a 65” television description, but 165cm doesn’t mean that much while I’m totally comfortable with the meaning of my own height either way (180cm or 5’11”) but would get the times-up buzzer converting my weight (81kg into imperial: 12 stone 11 pounds). But 99% of most people would surely wince at being asked what a stone, a furlong, or a chain even meant.