UK Weights and measures

As a country we are resistant to change. The European Union has shelved plans which would have made it illegal to use imperial measures after 2009.

We changed to decimal currency in 1971 and it was phased in over 18 months with some new coins and retaining some of the old coins. For example the shilling coin became 5 new pence. This was planned for 5 years before the changeover.

However, metric measures have not totally replaced imperial measurements. Almost everyone still uses imperial measures in everyday life. When you go to the pub, you buy a pint of beer. Although you have to buy petrol by the litre (because they stopped displaying the price per gallon when it got to about £3 per gallon), you still talk about the fuel economy of your car in miles per gallon. Road signs legally display distances in yards and miles and speed limits are in miles per hour.

Currently, all loose goods sold with reference to units of quantity have to be weighed and sold using the metric system. However, imperial measurements may also be displayed as “supplementary indications” – as a second label. This means that when you go to the supermarket to buy milk, you aren’t really buying a 4 pint bottle, you are buying a 2.272 litre bottle that just happens to contain 4 pints.

I grew up with imperial measures at home, but was taught metric at school and generally am conversant in either. The only exception to this is temperature, I only use Celsius and really struggle to relate to temperature in Fahrenheit. At work, when I was an electronics engineer, I was at ease using formulas with mm, but at home I am more likely to measure in feet and inches.

I am noticing that my son is interchanging them without problem, so that’s another generation that will grow up with both. I’m quite glad that the EU have given up trying to force their views on us for this area.

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