Let's help Americans use metric!

It occurs to me that Americans have a weird habit of taking guesstimated and general measurements a little too exact when translating into metric. Which is kinda dumb. So let’s help them out, and give some general terms. I’ll start:

  • Instead of “a few inches”, use “a few centimeters”.
  • Dump “feet”, and instead use either “half a meter” or “a quarter of a meter”.
  • Use the rounded kilometers, and don’t use decimal values when stating the miles; use yards instead.
    Example: he was about 30km away, or 18 miles and 1128 yards

Don’t forget the long-neglected decimetre!

The decimeter is good. A compact cassette is about a decimeter long.


I haven’t forgotten it, but I do want to stick to those units that are popular in places like France and Germany, the sort of units that are colloquially used all the time.

Remember, the goal is to get my fellow Yankees to accept that they are using a weird system.


Aa a yankee I recognize that imperial measures don’t make any objective sense. And honedtly I think more in metric anyway. But there’s a lot of cultural and official inertia.

I don’t convert between units mathematically very often, but I have a lot of general equivalences. 20c is room temp. A large grapefruit weighs about a kilogram. A cassette tape is about a decimeter on the longest axis, so a meter is about 10 tapes end to end. Liters and quarts are nearly the same. A liter’s a couple ounces bigger.


So let’s do it. Let’s use SI, and just provide Imperial only when requested.


When guestimating, a metre is a yard. If you want to be a bit more finicky, reckon that five feet is 1.5 metres.

A kilometre is five-eighths of a mile; a mile is one and three-fifths kilometres. For rough guestimating, call a mile one-and-a-half kilometres, and a kilometre two-thirds of a mile.

A soda can is a third of a litre. And, when full, also a third of a kilogram.

A kilogram is two pounds; a pound is half a kilogram. If you want to be a bit more finicky, a kilo is 2.2 lb; a pound is 45% of a kilo.

One hectare is two-and-a-half acres; an acre is two-fifths of a hectare.

Finally, use the same number of significant figures in your conversion as the original figure: 3000 miles is 5000 km, not 4828.032 km, for most casual purposes.


You see, I have been overseas so long I got used to soda being sold in half-litre and 0.33-litre cans. Most drinks are sold in half-litre, so metric wins again: larger portions!

That actually is how the Pfund (“pound”) is used in Germany.


It is certainly prevelant in other areas as well; but I like to call that tendency “STANAG metric”(with 2310 and 4172 bring the poster children): a situation where the basis of the measurement being talked about is clearly in imperial units, and many of the people talking about it are still thinking of it in those terms; but everyone has agreed to run it through the appropriate unit conversions for an international feel.


Oh. I thought it was supposed to be a fun game. I was getting ready with all sorts of helpful comparisons like cubits and such… :stuck_out_tongue:


To convert:

Kilograms to stones: divide by 6.

Kilometres to furlongs: multiply by 5.

Imperial fluid ounces to American fluid ounces: divide by 40 to get Imperial quarts, multiply by 1.13 to get litres, divide by 0.94 to get American (wet) quarts, then multiply by 32.


A bottle of wine is 75 centilitres.

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I’m not sure what you mean by this, maybe an example would help?

That said lots of Americans are pretty proficient with metric. It is, after all, our official measurement system. :wink:


Well, I was inspired by this:

And this:


Maybe it would help to update the titles of some of our popular films & TV shows.

The Whole Nine Meters
The Green 1.6 Kilometers
Two Meters Under
Hedwig and the Angry 2.5 Centimeters


I’m so glad we’ve decided to let scientists standardize things and not computer programmers. No one wants to see 64+"!namgreB">:#,_@ star in CasaFFFFFF.


As a former competitive runner, I have a love/hate relationship with Imperial and metric distances. Track competition distances are just weird. 100 m: good start. 200 m: okay. 400 m: I see where you’re going with this. 800 m: bitch of a distance, but so far, so good. 1500 m: WTFBBQ!?! 3000m: nevermind, I’m going back to yards…

So, er, you’re criticising that each distance is double, with the exception of using 1500 instead of 1600 because one and a half K is a good point to make 3000m into a 3K run?

I mostly did 10K runs when I still ran*, hoping to eventually do the 44K of a marathon. And yes, I know it’s really KM, but the way runners talked was to drop the M in colloquial usage. Just like for some reason kilos are always kilograms and not kilometres. And definitely not kilolitres, those are cubic metres or m³.

*I was never all that good, even in school I never qualified for the varsity team, but I enjoyed it as long as my knees allowed it.


Americans are already using the metric system when they use inches, feet, and miles. These days an inch is actually defined as 2.54 centimeters. Therefore it is a perfectly acceptable derived unit of the metric system, as are units defined by inches like feet and miles. In theory, you could even mix metric prefixes with them – you could talk of kiloinches if you wanted.

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The metric system is so irrational. Why is the base unit of mass the kilogram and not the gram? Silly French!