November 5, 1999
It seems like every time you read a letter to the editor,
someone is complaining about the Trudeau years as the root of
all evil. You remember - that was when the seas boiled red with
blood and there was forty days of darkness.
The complaints seem to always start the same way: "Trudeau,
who forced on us the Charter of Rights, official bilingualism,
the NEP and the metric system."
Give Trudeau a break. Not only was it fifteen years ago, he's
a senior citizen now, and he still knows karate.
Besides, he was right about the metric system.
I can't understand these people who are nostalgic about the
old British units of measurement. The British don't even use
them anymore. They discovered that a thousand metres in a kilometre
is easier to remember than 1760 yards in a mile. And don't get
me started about there being six feet in a fathom, or five and
a half yards in rod.
And when was the last time you weighed something using three
scruples to a dram, and eight drams to the ounce? How many furlongs
(which is 40 rods, by the way) does your car get to the hogshead?
Personally, I like weighing 77 kilograms. It sounds a whole
lot skinnier than 170 pounds. But there are a lot of things that
don't sound as good in metric.
To me, a pint of beer should always be a pint. I don't care
that a pint is four gills or sixteen ounces. Ordering "half
a litre" of beer just doesn't sound right. Ordering half
of anything never sounds very manly.
I'm not as fond of giving my height in metric. Six foot (with
a hat) is impressive. At 1.83 metres, it doesn't have the same
Having grown up with both systems, I'm pretty handy in either
of them. I only get into trouble when I try to convert. Like
when you're at the meat counter and have been told to get three
quarters of a pound of ham. Convert to metric and put the decimal
in the wrong place and you'll be eating ham sandwiches for the
rest of the month.
I do have to confess that I have never been able to get the
hang of the centigrade thermometer. There doesn't seem to be
enough degrees on it. At 10 degrees the furnace is on - at 20,
the air conditioning. At 15 degrees, I can never tell if I need
sunscreen or ice skates.
Newspapers all over Canada have a policy of converting all
measurements to metric when doing reporting. Sometimes it loses
something in the conversion. Last week I wrote about a genetically
engineered "forty foot" carrot, but by the time the
newspaper's proofreader got through with it, it was 15 metres
(Rule number one about writing for a newspaper never
speak badly of the proofreaders. They make semi-literate writers
look good, and if you get on their bad side they might let yur
misteaks git thru uncheked so yu look lik a idjut.)
I just think "40 foot" sounds funnier than "15
metres". Metric is just not funny. It makes everything sound
like a science report. A 3.048 metre pole isn't as funny as ten
foot pole. Missing something by 1.6093 kilometres instead of
a mile makes me think of a NASA probe. An ounce of prevention
sounds more easily swallowed than 28.35 grams.
For all its benefits, metric doesn't make a writer's life
It makes you want to put your foot (30.5 cm) down.