phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Measurements

Posted by Bob on April 06, 2001

In Reply to: Re: Measurements posted by R. Berg on April 06, 2001

: : Here in Britain were are slowly, oh so slowly, changing to the Metric system of measurement. The old system of lengths and weights is often termed 'Imperial'. What sort of collective noun is used in other parts of the world? I bet they don't call it 'Imperial' in the US!

: My first impulse was to say that in the U.S., when we need to emphasize the difference between the two systems, we speak of British units: "I have a hard time thinking in centimeters. I was brought up on the British units." But, looking in a dictionary (American Heritage), I find these statements: "There are three major systems of measurement units in wide use: the U.S. Customary System, the British Imperial System, and the International (Metric) System. . . . The U.S. System has its origins in the British System, but they are not identical. . . . In the British System the units of dry measure (capacity) are the same as those of liquid measure. In the U.S. System they are not."

I've never heard an American speak of the "U.S. Customary System" and about the only time we use Imperial is to refer to an Imperial gallon, which is apparently a different measure from a U.S. gallon. Mostly we just put our blinders on and wish for the metric system to go away. Part of this, I believe, has to do with American economy of speech. We abbreviate everything. We nickname everyone (whether they like it or not.) We compress. In this hyper-efficient atmosphere comes the metric system. Consider "inch" "yard" "mile" versus "centimeter" "meter" "kilometer" and so on. One syllable, one syllable, one syllable versus versus four, two, and four. It's downright un-American, by gum.