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.

 

10 Comments

  1. Jay Mort

    This is an excellent argument concerning the fidelity of the measuring systems. The FOOT has much greater fidelity than the Meter and it’s 1 level lower Decimeter which rolls out at almost 4 in. The foot is simply a very appropriate size to measure objects relative to human observation (i.e. from our eyeballs).

    The gradiation from Foot -> Yards -> Miles is a point often contented by metro-philes. However, from the standpoint of fidelity Imperial is no worse than metric in this sense. The metro-phile doesn’t measure a person’s height by decimeters, or the size of his beverage by centiliters. A 5ft 10in person is 180cm and a coke is 1000ml. The fidelity issue remains. Saying an object is 300 yards (the yard being more abstract than the foot) gives sense to the distance as a multiplicative of the foot (100 x 3 ft) or fraction of a mile (about 1/6), without the need for confusion brought on by utilization of decimalization of the higher portion (mile). (As an aside, one of the arguments against the mile is it is not divisible by ten, another argument against the mile is it is divisible by ten… what a lark.)

    As for the divisible by 10 issue… What is the exact sizes of these units? What’s a centimeter? What’s a meter, or a centiliter? Just like the Inch, foot, ounce, etc. to get precise measurements you have to reach for ye olden measuring tape or cup. The difference being, due to fidelity, metric suffers in areas outside of precise measurements (and also suffers in precision measurement as regards to fractional measurements – used by many metro-philes to attack imperial), whereby the fidelity of the imperial system lends itself to the task.

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  2. Patrick Doyle

    I dislike the metric system, I grew up with stones for bodyweight. Pounds, inches and feet, even rods, poles and perches. Back in the 19th century many others were in use although the UK parliament back then was trying to change over. I had a grandmother who worked as an accountant, she could add up pounds, shillings and pence in one column! Not a usual way!

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  3. Kiwi-ian

    I know you’re desperately trying to help your neighbour but . . .

    Divisibility by 3 or 6 – maybe not such a good argument as it works only for feet. What’s a third of a mile in yards? A third of a pint, pound, acre?

    Slices of a pizza? Wouldn’t you buy a whole pizza and divide it accordingly? How about 7 mates (though easy if one is really hungry and takes 2 portions)

    You did not mention, but many others do, the “human scale” of imperial, but again, for those brought up in metric, that argument loses force as we have adapted metric to human scale, so a jar of peanut butter is 500g (1Lb = 464g), a beer is 500ml (an American pint is 473 ml), a bag of sugar is 1kg (2Lb is 0.907kg), milk comes in litre cartons (1 quart = 0.946 Lt), a tall man is “one eighty” or 1.8m (6′ is just shy of 1.83) etc. all pretty close – and in human scale.

    Cooking and recipes – a recipe is essentially proportions rather than absolutes so provided you keep to those in metric you’ll have no problem. So a pound cake (one pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs) can still be made in metric with say 400g 450g or 500g each.

    I was brought up “bilingual”, 20 years in Europe completely metric, the rest in NZ (metric), the UK (both) and Africa (British at the time). I probably know more imperial measures than most but find them impossible to work with especially given the complete lack of inter measure consistency (1 US fluid ounce does NOT weigh 1 ounce and a pint does NOT weigh a pound).

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  4. The divisibility by 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12 can only be used in the imperial system for a very coarse grid of 12, 24, 36 … inches. In practice, you often need to use a finer grid and there you already lose this “advantage”.
    In a metric system you can use a very fine grid of 12 mm = about 1/2 inch and such dimensions you will still have divisible by 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12.

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  5. Imperials smell

    So you are saying that the imperial is better because it is easier to divide it? LOL WELL GUESS WHAT: Metric can be divided even better: 1 meter can be divided by any number because you can convert meter in centimeter, decimeter, milimeter etc

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  6. Ohhhh my god such dumb reasoning
    Can be divided by 3 and 4 etc?
    What about you switch from m to cm in a milsecond or mm or nm or whatever you like and can get a far more accurate result
    Better for heights????
    So what is my height in imperial? I am 184.5 cm tall
    Or let say somebody is 188.75 cm or shall I say 188 cm and 7.5 mm?

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  7. Yeah this argument sounds American 😂 Talking about dividing pizza! What about when it comes to architecture or engineering? Do you still believe the imperial system is better then? Pizza division isn’t exactly a major issue. If you have 10 slices of pizza and 4 people, each person gets 2.5 slices. it’s not hard to cut a pizza slice in half to make it fair. In every way the metric system is better and more logical. The imperial system is outdated and needs to go!

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  8. Really? How about going fron inches to feet, to yards, to miles. Good luck with that!!! Now going from millimeters to centimeters to kilometers, way easier. And if you want to go to a unit smaller than a milleter, you can!! Try to go to a unit smaller than an inch. Good luck with that!!

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  9. Riskanter Luchs

    The arguement, why it’s better to use imperial over metric doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, if any.
    The claim, that imperial is more suitable for measuring medium to small sized objects, is solely based on a subjective point of view.
    I’d argue, that the question which of the two systems is easier to use, is a matter of personal prefference, which does not suffice as a definitive objective proof by any means, that one system is even partially superior to the other.
    I also don’t see the point of the divisibility argument. you can divide any number ba any other number except 0, you just don’t allways get an integer as a result.

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  10. Odd Erlend Solvang

    Complite nonsense. Metric i Just easier.

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