Words and Phrases We Can Keep Once the U.S. Moves to the Metric System

Frequently this column is serious although I do try to apply some humor within my writing. This week I thought I’d depart from history lessons and head scratching over our lack of metric adoption and just have some fun.

None of the metric “definitions” are real, of course, just comical suggestions for how we might approach these phrases in an all-metric future.

By leaps and bounds – I used that one day and a friend called me on it as in “Is that metric?” What else could I do but say “Yes.” I further responded by saying that a “leap” is 1.5 meters and a “bound” is 3 meters. And so now you know.

Bunch – This word is frequently used in cooking, as in a punch of parsley, etc. The actual definition is “clump” or “cluster.” I have no ideas how they decide how much a bunch is when you buy herbs and that sort of thing at the grocery store. So, as far as I’m concerned, the metric equivalent is a bunch = 10 of anything. A bunch of kisses: 10. A big bunch = 20. Use your imagination from there.

From afar – As in “ I’ve admired her/him from afar.” If it turns out the person is everything you thought she/he would be, then it’s between 1 and 3 meters. On the other hand, if you didn’t see the person objectively, you were probably more like 10 or more meters away.

Within hailing distance – This refers to getting another person’s attention, as in to “hail” or “greet” them. Metrically, I estimate this at about 10 meters away if both people are in relatively crowd-free conditions and half of that if there are lots of other people around.

A load off one’s mind – Of course, this is purely a psychological construct and could vary tremendously depending on the worry. Therefore, I propose a scale whereby finally remembering where you parked your car in the mall parking lot when you have an arm’s worth of packages is only a few grams while finding out that you didn’t have that brain tumor after all could be hundreds of kilograms.

Carry one’s own weight – Again, this is a psychological construct that people do their fair share of work and not an actual weight. For the sake of this article, let’s say that to carry one’s own weight is conservatively 1/3, oops .333 percent of their body weight. So, for someone who weighs 75 kgs, that would be 25 kgs. Ta da.

Throw one’s weight around We all know these kind of obnoxious people. In this case simply double the person’s actual weight in kilograms. The extra weight probably won’t look good on them, even in your own mind. Nor should it.

Dead weight – The concept refers to a heavy, motionless mass. This one’s easy, the actual weight of the person or thing in an unhelpful way, in kilograms, of course.

I’m sure there are others I haven’t thought of yet. If you think of some and want to send them to me for a future column (and I know you witty people are out there) get them to milebehind@gmail.com and I’ll give you credit if I use yours.

On a more serious note: I came across these references while looking for quotations on weight and distance. I wanted to share them with you.

Men cling passionately to old traditions and display intense reluctance to modify customary modes of behavior, as innovators at all times have found to their costs. The dead-weight of conservatism, largely a lazy and cowardly distaste for strenuous and painful activity of real thinking, has undoubtedly retarded human progress…

V. Gordon Childe, Man Makes Himself, p. 31

And this is what the pro-metric folks will be up against (but hopefully from a single digit percentage of people):

Metric is definitely communist. One monetary system, one language, one weight and measurement system, one world – all communist! We know the West was won by the inch, foot, yard, and mile.

Dean Krakel, Director of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame

Of course, he forgets to mention use of our metric dollar (10 dimes and 100 pennies) courtesy of Thomas Jefferson—a founding father—that helped finance the winning of the West.

Be prepared for the naysayers, but keep your sense of humor. We’ll all come out better off down the road (measured in kilometers, of course).


(Join my mailing list by sending an email to milebehind@gmail.com. Thanks!)

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