Vote for Your Favorite Pro-Metric System Slogans

One idea that came concurrent with the inception of the project was T-shirts. Really. Not only as a way to raise money for production but with the notion that if people are interested enough to wear a pro metric T-shirt it might get other people thinking about the issue and raise awareness. Awareness is the first step to helping prepare for the change that needs to take place.

To back this idea up, allow me to quote the Heath brothers, from their bestselling book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard: (Had to take some liberties with emphasis from the book due to the blog’s template.)

We all talk about the power of peer pressure, but “pressure” may be overstating the case. Peer perception is plenty. In this entire book, you might not find a single statement that is so rigorously supported by empirical research as this one: You are doing things because you see your peers do them. It’s not only your body-pierced teen who follows the crowd. It’s you, too. Behavior is contagious.

To help perpetuate peer perception, I’ve generated slogans I thought would work to spur metric adoption. I’m sure I’ll come with with more but here are some to start with.

I plan to make products available with them so knowing your favorites would be very helpful. Please take a moment to tell me which ones you like best. (I’ll roll out more as time goes on.)

Here’s an example of one of them translated into a design: (thanks to my multitalented daughter Laura):

What the slogans might look like

A slogan example

(Please note: For right now, please don’t send me your suggestions for new ones. There are legal implications and intellectual property considerations. May run a contest in the future once I’ve gotten the details sorted out so hold on to them until that time. In fact, try to think up more than the one that just popped into you head and write them down for future use. Thanks!)

May also have to change some a bit since Burma has now announced its intent to convert  to the metric system. But, hasn’t happened yet so I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Layout also gets complicated so I used colons where I thought some of the line breaks should be. Some are also a bit of an “inside joke” so ignore them if they don’t work for you.

I’ll leave the poll open for a few weeks since I would like lots of input. Feel free to share this with folks you know. Thanks, Linda

Note: Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. New York: Broadway, 2010. Print. Page 227.

Waiting for the Metric System Change of the Guard

Having written about the anti-metric system-adoption stance taken by the director of our country’s National Institute for Standards and Technology last week, it got me thinking more about the counter arguments offered during our 200+ year history on why some people are so firmly against the metric system.

As far as I know, the first formal anti-metric group in the United States was the International Institute for Preserving and Perfecting Anglo-Saxon Weights with Charles Latimer as one of its organizers.

In his book The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World, Ken Alder says of him:

Charles Latimer was a devout Christian, a successful railway engineer, and an avid pyramidologist who believed that the ‘sacred inch’ had been built into the Great Pyramid at Giza and had been transmitted across the millennia to the United States. He also had visceral contempt for atheism, the French, and metric system.

Latimer went on to write a 65-page hardcover booklet published in 1880 titled The French metric system, or The Battle of the Standards: A discussion of the comparative merits of the metric system and the standards of the great pyramid.  In it he relates his beliefs mentioned above yet also noted:

Certainly the advantage of a decimal system is of paramount importance, and there is no reason why we should not have a decimal system, deduced from our measure of inch, foot and year, or multiples of our unit, the inch. (page 13)

Fast-forward a hundred years later and a book called Metric Madness: Over 150 reasons for NOT converting to the Metric System put out by the American Institute for Weights and Measures in 1980 (the organization began in 1917) relates:

Nobody disputes the advantages of decimals. The question is not whether decimals are better. This is precisely why we have decimalized so many of our measurements so extensively which, unfortunately, so many of the decimal proponents fail to realize. (page 58)

I find it interesting that so many anti-metric folks uphold the logic of a decimal system but want to decimalize our current units or retain our system for applications such as binary units (the second quote).

Let’s take a moment to look at the currently anti-metric Wall Street Journal:

• In November it published an anti-metric article to coincide with Thanksgiving last year called: “Cooking a Poundcake in a Metric Oven Is No Easy Task

which includes the line:

“The keepers of America’s metric flame are the roughly 300 members of the U.S. Metric Association. By most measures, their efforts in recent decades have failed.”

and in

• “Measuring Metric’s Limits in the Grocery Aisle” from April of last year.

It’s lead sentence reads:

The fight to persuade Americans to ditch English units for the metric system in their everyday lives is largely lost.

Pretty much shows the paper’s slant doesn’t it?

However, the publication didn’t always take such a position and in its informative book (that’s a review so I can now quote from it)* The Wall Street Journal Guide to the Metric System, published in 1977 indicates:

The metric system is a system of measurement that is simpler and more logical than the customary of English system of measurement…However, once the adult becomes familiar with only three of four basic metric units, the entire metric system falls into place and usually becomes the preferable measurement system. (page 9)

It also praises the metric system in other sections of the publication as well including how decimal arithmetic should be easy for Americans since our currency is based on the metric system (page 12).

While I don’t anticipate the Wall Street Journal warming up to the metric system anytime soon, Carl Bialik (who wrote the grocery store article above) pointed out in a May 31, 2013 article that the Washington Bridge collapse might have been contributed to by the use of dual measurement systems in this county.  In his article “Will This Bridge Fall? It’s Hard to Say” it says simply:

Adding to the confusion, states and the federal government maintain separate databases of bridge ratings and characteristics, and these don’t always line up, for reasons including the piecemeal adoption of the metric system and data sharing that takes place only once a year.

Who knows, maybe the Wall Street Journal will eventually swing its position back to where it was forty years ago and seek to help Americans (and its own writers) embrace, understand and use the metric system as it did once. It even has the book that it can dust off towards those goals

Fingers crossed.


* The book states that no part of it may be reproduced in any form by any means without permission except for brief extracts quoted for review.

What’s In a Name: Metric System or SI?

When I embarked on this project I started learning lots of things, including that while we here in the United States use the term “metric system,” to designate the decimalized system used by the rest of the world—the rest of the world uses “SI” which in English is short for International System of Units. “What?” I hear you say. Then why isn’t it “ISU”? Well, it originated in France and the French version is “Le Système international d’unités” which they shorted to SI and that’s what used throughout most of the rest of the world.

So, I was faced with the conundrum: do I use our traditional “metric system” phraseology as I continually reference it or the more internationally accepted “SI” to help people here get familiar with it? Let’s face it, we’ve used the phrase “metric system” in this country for a long time (way before our last big metric push in 1975 with the Metric Conversion Act) so that’s how most people refer to it here—when they refer to it at all.

So here are my thoughts on the subject: for the sake of moving metric adoption forward, let’s go ahead and use the phrase “metric system” since most people here at least know what that refers to. People with experience in other countries (whether as natives or visitors) can use SI if that’s their preferred terminology. The more worldly among us and “early adopters” will most likely use the SI moniker as well.

As long as the two names can be used together when it makes sense and there is space to do so (as in “Metric System/SI”) let’s go ahead and do that so people can get them connected in their minds. After a while, maybe we’ll move over to SI exclusively or maybe we won’t. FRANKLY I DON’T THINK IT’S THAT IMPORTANT.

What IS important is that we use the system itself, not what we call it. After all, our base metric unit of money (remember the 100 pennies and 10 dimes it contains) is referred to as both a “dollar” and a “buck” and nobody gets their undies in a bundle about that. The two exist side by side and it only causes some slight confusion to the outsider. The same can be said of the United Kingdom’s parallel of the “pound” and “quid.”

Now let me clarify a bit more. When I say it doesn’t matter what we call it—I mean in a choice between the terms metric system or SI. I’ve seen some suggestions lately that concern themselves with making a distinction between the metric system and “metrics,” used in the sense of “performance metrics” or “performance measurements” or altering “metric system” to make it more palatable to the public. While I believe those offering alternatives are well meaning, I think the use of an entirely new or altered term would just muddy the waters and there are much better ways to leverage our pro-metric resources than get into a debate about new terminology.

I work in the communications field and while other occupational/organizational designations can get tangled up in things (telecommunications immediately comes to mind) I never have the slightest doubt if something I’m looking at relates to interpersonal or machine-to-machine communication. Yeah, it would be nice if I could plug “communications” into a search engine and not pull up information that doesn’t relate to my intended search but I could accomplish the same goal using a modifier such as “interpersonal,” “organizational” or “written.”

In fact, to back up my assertion, I just did two searches: one for “metric system” (and it needs to be bounded by the quotation marks so the search engine looks for that exact phase and not rough equivalents) and the first page (didn’t look beyond that) only related to “the” metric system. A search for “metrics” (again, the quotation marks are needed) and it only brought up information about performance metrics. So, I don’t think we need a new name for the metric system; I think we just need more people who understand how quotation marks work in search engines so people find what they are looking for.

As to making it more acceptable to the public by altering its name, I think that’s missing the point. We fundamentally want people to adopt the metric system itself, not what we call it. We’re not going to trick people into liking something they didn’t before by changing its name. Take a moment to imagine a food that you hate the most and ask yourself if you’d like it better if it had a different name. I think not. So, let’s just move forward and let the metric system and SI live peacefully side by side and work on what I consider some more fundamental issues.

That’s my current position and I don’t mean anyone any disrespect but metric implementation is going to be challenging enough without introducing confusion for the people we’re trying to enlist to our cause.

Those with opinions on the subject (for or against) can weigh in (in kilograms of course) in the comments section providing they abide by my earlier guidelines.

Thanks for getting all the way to the bottom of this post.


How I Feel About Comments On My Blog

Three words: I love them.

This blog is all about my thoughts and opinions regarding my project and the adoption of the metric system in the United States. I’m happy to share those thoughts with anyone who might care to read this blog. Hopefully, I’m occasionally interesting or informative.

I’m also happy to hear what other people have to say for several reasons:

1) I’m one person. As broadminded as I try to be, I can’t anticipate everyone’s opinions and it’s only if I listen to their thoughts that I can take them into account as I move forward.

2) I learn new, relevant information. As much as I have learned about the metric system and its history there is always more out there. I hope to continue to absorb and incorporate new information into the project until such time as it is no longer possible. The project itself has an end date but who knows what will happen after that. Too soon to tell.

3) They give you, the reader, an opportunity to hear perspectives other than mine. Unfortunately, you have to click on the comments section to view them. I hope you take an opportunity to view them if you have the time.

4) Yeah, I can view stats for this blog and see how many people have looked at it and how many pages they saw. While interesting, that’s pretty dry stuff. By reading comments I get to know about the other people who are out there and who are interested in this topic and what’s on their minds. It also supplies more of a chance for dialogue. That’s always a good thing as long as both people are listening.

5) It means I’ve engaged you at some level. When I make presentations, I always hope for a question. I don’t even care if it is a negative question. Just one question means that everything I’ve said didn’t just go in one ear and out the other. If you post a comment, I feel the same way, like I’m not talking into thin air. Thanks!


I get to approve comments for this blog and it will be my policy to approve all of them unless they’re spam, libelous, downright offensive or have some other major issue. Comments don’t have to agree with my perspectives but they need to be courteous.

Response to comments

I read somewhere that blog posters should respond to their comments. Well, if I respond to all of them, it would feel like I have to get the last word in. That’s not how I feel at all. I will—and have—let comments stand on their own. It’s not that I don’t care but I don’t feel like I always have to insert myself.

I did respond to one comment when the person continually used “we” throughout his remarks. I tried to point out (nicely) that if by “we” he meant Americans, that I am one so he shouldn’t assume that I was an outsider and I let him know that as one of the “we” he referenced he didn’t include my opinions.

So, if you want to post, have the guts to say “I” unless you are a bona fide representative of a larger organization. Otherwise, you’re just making assertions that your views are held by a wider audience. They might be but unless ordained, don’t pretend you represent those folks.

I am happy that I’m coming in contact with likeminded people through this blog and it helps encourage me to continue on this path. I do have a full-time day job as a writer and organizational communication specialist so this really is labor of love and an effort to help us move us forward on this important issue.

That said, I fully recognize that I “stand on the shoulders of giants” and I’m thankful for all of the other people who are devoting their time and energy to this issue as well. Where I come from, (a national science laboratory) the phrase of “critical mass” means something very specific in the physics arena. In this case, I’m hoping a critical mass of us can move the trajectory of an entire country in a more positive direction. And from what I can tell, the right people seem to be coalescing around this important issue. That’s a very positive sign.

Thanks for your continued interest as I move along this path.