LETTER:Drawbacks of the metric system

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The Independent Online
From Mr Charles Fyffe

Sir: Whether we want it or not, we are going to be saddled with the metric system. However, Tom Wilkie ("Drop your feet and use your fingers," 30 September), in trying to persuade us that it is a Good Thing, perhaps unwittingly blows the gaff when he writes "we have 10 fingers and therefore count in tens." Quite: the metric system was devised for a backward, uneducated, newly liberated peasantry. Sophisticated societies, such as industrialised Britain, had a more sensible system that needed regularising, not abolishing.

It's typical of metric that its foundation, supposedly a "natural" distance, turned out to be wrongly calculated so that the metre finished up, like the yard, as an arbitrarily decided length. As the kilogram was supposed to be the weight of 1,000cc of pure water, one would expect the cc and the centilitre to be the same, but they are not. I have found three standards for the metre: one given by Dr Wilkie, one based on the wavelength of the red line in cadmium, and one, like the standard yard at the Board of Trade, on a metal bar at Sevres. The standard Imperial lengths are, or were, set in the wall on the north side of Trafalgar Square.

Given a choice between a man in a white coat and a lab-full of electronics and laying your ruler along a metal bar, most people would, quite rightly, choose the latter. It's in keeping with the nonsense attending the adoption of metric that we use units as small as the gram and millimetre, the second a measurement many people can hardly see. It means that quite small amounts and lengths have to be expressed in three figures, which makes mental arithmetic difficult if not impossible.

Yours faithfully,

Charles Fyffe

London, NW6

1 October

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