“What is a cubit?” – Noah (Bill Cosby) to God in Noah’s Ark
1 cm3 = 1ml = 1 gram (for water of course) is the single best reason to use the metric system. Any child with a slightest visual perception skill can grasp it. Not only that, all divisions are by a measure of 10, so Roman in its concept. By contrast, the Anglo-Saucon measurement system is a mathematics student’s nightmare: 2 pints = 1 quart x 4 = one gallon = 16 cups; 12 inches = one foot x 3 = one yard x 1760 [sic] – one mile; and 16 ounces = one pound x 2000 = one ton. Of course, each measurement is mathematically isolated from each other. Why should life be simple if you can complicate it? Still, over the years, people get used to the system and even intuitively assimilate the weird math, even insisting on its virtues. However, there are some specialized English measures that few Americans or Brits have the faintest idea of what they really mean. They exist for distance, volume, speed and weight. Kudos for anybody that actually can quantify them.
|[horse and plow*]|
Furlongs and leagues are unusual units of lengths used for a specific circumstance. The length of some horse racing tracks is in furlongs, which makes sense since a furlong (furrow-long) was a length of a common plowing area in England, which obviously involved horses. Its length was 660 feet or 201 meters for those in the Continent. Many readers know that Captain Nemo could take his ship, the Nautili’s, 20,000 leagues under the sea but few realized that meant a little more than 69,000 miles or possibly 80,000 km if you use the French measure, a feat somewhat hard to believe if you consider it. A league is the distance a person can walk in an hour and varied accordingly. In the UK, a league was considered 3 miles while at sea, rather Jesus-like, it was 3.425 kilometers. I suppose walking on water creates less friction and resistance. Alas, it is rare to find anybody that walks from city to city or plows fields with horses. Too late, the damage is done.
Oil and wheat prices are of prime concern to people throughout the world. Their measurement is a bit mysterious. When the oil producers of Pennsylvania decided to establish a standard packaging size in 1872, they chose a barrel of wine, which contains 42 US gallons or around 159 cubic meters. A barrel is a barrel is a barrel? Even more ancient is the bushel, a unit of measurement for grains. The equivalents are 64 pints and 32.36 liters. I suppose one can blame the French on this one as the term comes from old French. I imagine only farmers there can visualize that quantity. What was, is.
|[man pushing stone]|
I would call this post “ode to the metric system” but Americans will never abandon their time-honored tradition of complicated calculations and not only out of respect for their math teachers. I am no Don Quixote. More impractically, I can say after more than 30 years in Israel that I have forgotten what heavy a pound is but still have no sense of how heavy a kilo is. Regarding most measures, I can delicately ask a similar question to that Noah asked God (at least according to Bill Cosby): what is a cubit?
* Captions allow the blind to fully access the Internet.
Picture credits: Pixabay