Imperial cruiser

21 Aug

Meanwhile, in the export department at General Motors:

‘Jeez, how many litres are there in a gallon? It’s like a different language!’

‘Wait, I know what to do.’

If you’ve grown up in Britain, it’s easy to sympathise. This is a country where orange juice is sold by the litre, but speed limits are enforced in miles per hour, and where designers lay out pages in points and picas, then print them out on A3 paper. Metrication got so far but no further in the UK: although the younger generation can conceptualise a hectare slightly better than their parents, imperial measurements (especially in road and traffic law) are still institutionally embedded in British life. Measurement systems may not quite be languages, as the owner’s manual for my rented Camaro seemed to suggest, but they’re certainly a state of mind.

The Tribune’ style guide demands we change feet into metres, but not miles into kilometres: the metre and the yard are deemed to be close enough not to require conversion. We use litres, but obviously not for pints of beer; we use tonnes rather than tons, but obviously not when the sense is metaphorical (and not in relation to shipping).

If only doing conversions was as easy as playing around with the switchable speedometer on the Camaro made it look.

3 Responses to “Imperial cruiser”

  1. Jeff September 9, 2017 at 8:36 pm #

    What I always find annoying is when publications take the conversion a little too literally. So when someone is quoted as saying “The Bigfoot was at least eight feet (2.44m) tall”, shouldn’t it sensibly be converted as 2.5m? Of course that’s not what they *actually* said, which is the subject of several of your other posts…

    And what’s up with the speedo? Does the top speed automatically drop in protest at not using ‘English’ units?

    • edlatham September 9, 2017 at 9:04 pm #

      Yes, the needle just goes round the dial slower when you’re in mph mode! So 140 kph is as fast as it will record you going (honestly, officer)


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