I went to grade school in the 1970s. Yes, I am that old. That was the era when the United States was going to join the rest of the world using the logical metric system of weights, measurements and temperature. I’m sure there are other aspects that I haven’t considered, but those are the only ones I remember. Since we still used the old system, I had to learn both metrics and the hodgepodge we were using at the time. Long story short, we didn’t change. Some of you know metrics. Some of you know the American system known as “the standard system of weights and measures”. I’m going to call it hodgepodge for the sake of this blog. You’ll understand when I explain.
For those of you unfamiliar with the hodgepodge system let me break it down. The basic unit of measuring distance is a foot. That is made up twelve inches. Why? Beats me. If you go smaller than an inch we use fractions. ½ or ¼ of an inch or smaller. I know, it sucks but it’s what we do because… well… I’ll let you know if I ever figure that out. If you go bigger, there are three feet to one yard. Then on even larger scales we use miles. A mile is 5,280 feet. Don’t blame me. I didn’t make it up.
The basic unit of measure for metrics is the meter. A few of my American friends know it is like a yard, which is three feet in hodgepodge terms. Some other Americans think it is close to a mile. We have heard of kilometers. When Americans hear “kilo” we think it is all about the weight of cocaine. I took a survey. One out of thirteen people knew the ratio is .6 miles to a kilometer. Five of those thought there were two kilometers per mile. Four knew it was some kind of European thing that was the tiny numbers on the car’s speedometer. Two of them asked why I was bothering them. One thought it was the name club music in Berlin.
Now when it comes to volume, Americans do know about liters. We know that two liters is the perfect size for a bottle of Coke, Pepsi or any other kind of sugar-filled soft drink we use to become overweight. If you were to show most Americans a liter, they would think it was a quart. There are eight fluid ounces in a cup, two cups in a pint, two pints in a quart, and four quarts in a gallon. A gallon is a little less than four liters. Yes, we do buy our gasoline in gallons, not liters. For my Russian and Japanese English students, I had to make a complicated spreadsheet to translate dollars per gallon to dollars per liter, to yen or rubles per liter so we could discuss who had the worst gas prices. It was usually Japan.
Temperature is where is gets really weird for hodgepodge. Metrics uses degrees Celsius. Zero is the freezing point of water. 100 is boiling. Hodgepodge uses
Fahrenheit … Fair-in-height … Fahrenheit. I had to look that up. 32 F is the freezing point of water. 212 is the boiling point. Since I teach English online to people in countries that use metrics, occasionally, someone will walk passed me when I’m talking to them and get really confused.
Me: Yes, it’s nice here today, too. It’s about 24 degrees today.
Friend: Doug, stop lying to them. It’s 75 out today.
Me: No, that would be fatal.
Friend: What the #$%^ are you talking about?
In conclusion, since I live I the U.S. I used hodgepodge when talking to Americans and metrics when speaking with the rest of the world. Is it any wonder I’m as random as I am?