Inches and Feet and Miles, Oh My!
Date: 04/14/2008 at 13:14:51 From: Elisha Subject: English Measures: inconsistency Why are English measures inconsistent in conversions? The metric system works in the meter and power of tens, but English units are kind of crazy (1 ft = 12 in, 3 ft = 1 yd, 1 mi = 1760 yd or 5280 ft, etc.) I really don't understand where the measures come from. After all, the metric system uses the universal meter for length, liter for volume, etc. I've checked out the page "Millimeters, Inches, Feet, Miles" [http://www.mathforum.com/library/drmath/view/63332.html] and found it interesting, and it piqued my curiosity. Thanks, Elisha
Date: 04/14/2008 at 23:34:22 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: English Measures: inconsistency Hi, Elisha. The English system, like all other national systems before the metric system, "just grew"--it wasn't planned, but formed gradually as various units were borrowed from other countries, modified to fit local needs and uses, and were eventually seen as a "system", though it is more of a loose confederacy than an organized system. Each set of related units has its own reason, but they are all different reasons. It's a lot like English spelling, which grew in a similar way and has little consistency. It's also like an old city whose roads wander in all different directions, because it was not planned as a city. If you want to see some of those reasons, and how these units developed, try looking up some familiar units here: How Many? A Dictionary of Units http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/ The metric system was deliberately put together as a consistent system by people who were familiar with old systems, were willing to change everything, and wanted to make it completely rational. It's more like an artificial language (say, a computer language), or a planned city with regular rectangular blocks--uniform and consistent, but a little uninteresting! I suspect one reason many people dislike metric is that it has no personality, and doesn't quite seem human. But for its purpose, it is excellent. If you have any further questions, feel free to write back. - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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