Life, universe and everything

When multiples of 10 fail us

… or why I feel sorry for the Brits.


1 inch ( in. or " )  =    about the width of a thumb = 25.4 mm
12 inches ( ins.)  = 1 foot = about the length of a size 10 shoe = 305 mm
3 feet ( ft. )  =  1 yard = about from nose to stretched finger = 0.91 m
1760 yards (yds)  =  1 mile ( m ) = about 15 minutes walking  = 1.61 km


Seriously?! And wait, it gets worse.


16 drams ( dr )  =  1 ounce = a tablespoon of sugar = 28 grams
16 ounces ( ozs.)  =  1 pound = a bag of sugar = 0.45 kg
14 pounds ( lbs)  =  1 stone used in body weight  = 6.35 kg
2 stone  =  1 quarter less common unit = 12.7 kg
4 quarters  =  1 hundredweight = 112 lb
20 hundredweight (cwt)  =  1 ton = 2240 lb. = about 14 men = 1.016 tonne


Nothing quite helps your self esteem than having your body weight measured in rocks, does it?  

Oh, and here’s another one: why measure how many litres of gas per 100 km a car consumes when you can say how many miles a car can go with one gallon of gas! What’s the reasoning behind that? “Gimme 2 gallons, Bob, and I’ll see how far it’ll take me!”.

Comments (4)

  • Ugh, I spend much of my time remembering what mililiters translate into in terms of teaspoons for perfume making–it’s one of the reasons I’m glad I didn’t move to the UK, although it’s such a little detail.

    Love your post on travel below…I’m sort of jonesing to go back to Italy right now. Hope you’re having a good week so far!

    xo Mary Jo

  • Yea…the imperial system sucks…Funny how the brits have mpg but they sell the gas in liters at the gas station 🙂
    But then again, we aren’t that much brighter when it comes to measuring time.
    Why does 1 hour have 60 minutes, with 60 seconds in a minute and 1000 miliseconds in a sec?

  • Vlad:

    > Why does 1 hour have 60 minutes, with 60 seconds
    > in a minute and 1000 miliseconds in a sec?

    Presumably, this reeks of Babylonian influence, for whom Base 60 was the norm. In this case, you might as well ask yourself why we use Base 10. The answer, is simple. Base 10 was used by the Romans, the Chinese, and the Indians. These three powers dominated the world, hence the standard. The adoption of Base 10 has little to do with mathematical necessity nor human anatomy (you might as well ask why we don’t use Base 5 if we have 5 fingers). It has everything to do with history.

    This of course, it also the answer to the “Why” questions Alex asks.

    The more frustrating norm for me is the non-standardised paper sizing. America and Canada are one of the few countries to use the US Letter system of paper. Elsewhere, they use A-sized paper, which is very designed so as to obey the beautiful and convenient proportions of the golden mean. For example, halving an A4 produces an A5, which halved, produces an A6. Halving a US Letter doesn’t produce something with the same proportions.

    There are ways you can justify the beauty of the ‘stumpy’ US Letter. For example, it is very close to an octogonally-inspired design used by Roman scribes. Unfortunately, like the metric system, it exists more as a historical artifact, rather than as a thing which was designed from the ground up to be beautiful and practical.

  • When we lived in London, I was always baffled by the whole weight in stones thing. It never translated for me. Plus, thinking in metric, using a scale to measure all my ingredients when baking, it got old. I’ll take our archaic system.


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