Why the Metric system is not always superior to the Imperial system

imperial_vs__metric_by_nekit1234007-d5p0ou5As a Canadian I love to joke about how much more sense our measurement system (the metric system) is than the American system (the imperial system).  Its always nice to get a few jabs in on our neighbors to the south.   Helps me feel better about my country when I can put another country down just a little bit.

The basis for believing that the metric system is superior to the imperial system is that is less confusing than the imperial system.  The metric system measures things using units such as meters (for length) or grams (for weight) and adds prefixes such as kilo, centi or milli to count orders of magnitude using a “base 10” system.  Since it is easy to multiply or multiply by 10’s, converting to different units within the system is easy.  For example since there are 10 mm in 1 cm, 3 cm would be 3 x 10 mm = 30 mm, or since there are 100 cm in a m 500 cm would simply be 500 divided by 100 = 5 m.  The imperial system on the other hand is all over the place when it comes to conversion of units.  Things are measured in feet, inches, miles, yards (for distance) and pounds or ounces (for weight) and there is no consistent conversion factor to count orders of magnitude.  For example 1 foot = 12 inches, but 1 yard is 3 feet, and 1 mile is 5280 feet!

While the metric system is clearly less confusing than the imperial system, the imperial system is the superior to the metric system when it comes to measuring the lengths of objects of small or medium sizes (such as the height of a person, or the length of a dinning table).  In other words it is better to use feet and inches than meters and centimeters.

When it comes to feet and inches the imperial system uses a base 12 system, so instead of counting by 10’s (as in the metric system) you count by 12’s.  One foot is 12 inches, so two feet is 24 inches, three fee is 36 inches and so on.   While it may appear to be more difficult to count by 12’s than 10’s, the advantage that 12 has over 10 is in its divisibility.  Twelve can be divided by 2, 3, 4, and 6 (these numbers are called “factors” of 12), ten can only divided by 2 and 5.  In our daily lives being able to divide things up evenly easily is a huge plus.  For example if you had 12 slices of pizza you could share it evenly with 2 people ( 6 slices each), 3 people (4 slices each), 4 people (3 slices each) or 6 people (2 slices each).  On the other hand you had 10 slices of pizza you could only share it evenly with only  2 people(five slices each) or 5 people (2 slices each).   Therefore a foot unlike a meter can be cleanly divided by two , three and four – which for a carpenter or tailor makes it the better unit to work with.


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