Eradicating the scourge of Customary and Imperial units of measurement from all textbooks and ancillary learning materials for all students in all grades is getting a little too high on the “to do” list of American schools. “Metric is the only way now,” say our educators, pointing to the dire need for science and math skills in the increasingly competitive global job market. However, I would recommend that caution be exercised, and restraint demonstrated, before blindly rushing to convert to metric and I am offering a number of reasons to compel you, too, not to give an inch, much less 2.54 centimeters, on this position.
First, think of all the useful and beloved expressions that are part of our English-speaking heritage that will likely implode or simply vanish upon conversion.
Metrically speaking, is 28.35 grams of prevention really worth .454 kilos of cure? Would you want to walk 1.6 kilometers in another man’s shoes, or give that same person 2,540 millimeters only to have him take 1,600,000 of same? And think about the ramifications of converting “the whole nine yards,” meaning the completeness of an effort, into “the whole 8.23 meters.” It’s specious at best and anathema to say the least. And to me, 907.18 kilograms falls short of the mark for fun.
Next, consider the American character. Will Texans don 37.85-liter hats? Will bathing beauties strive for hourglass figures of 91.44-55.88-91.44? I don’t think so. And at considerable bodily risk, such as the extraction of the newly proverbially 453.6 grams of flesh, you probably shouldn’t broach the subject of American football players needing to gain a sacrosanct 9.144 meters for a first down.
Then there are the financial repercussions to the American songbook that metric conversion will wreak, never mind the affront to artistic integrity. True, Hollywood chose to excise the hit number “Bushel and a Peck” from its screen
version of the 1950s Broadway classic Guys and Dolls. Yet, the song’s prospects for inclusion in future staged versions do not bode well should the lyrics metrically correct to “I love you, .03524 cubic meters, and another amount 1/4 of .03524 cubic meters.” The chance for revival of the well received, though rarely produced, 1963 Broadway musical, 110 in the Shade, would wilt once recalibrated to 43.3 Degrees Celsius. And no matter how up tempo you go with the refrain from “500 Miles,” the folksong made popular by Peter, Paul and Mary, the scansion will be off at “04.672 Kilometers.”
Finally, ponder how metric conversion would adversely affect canons of literature such as Lord Alfred Tennyson’s epic “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” The famous opening salvo becomes more tongue-twister than poetry when changed to “2.415 kilometers, 2.415 kilometers, 2.415 kilometers, onward. Into the Valley of Death rode the 600.” (The last reference is to the number of soldiers, so that part of the stanza is safe from conversion.) What is the likelihood that Erskine Caldwell would have had a 1933 international best-seller made into a notorious, scandal-mongered 1958 Hollywood movie if saddled with the title God’s Little 4047 Square Meter?
In conclusion, think carefully about going metric so willy-nilly. We stand to lose treasures of our language, lifestyle, lyrics, and literature. Defend your right to deploy Customary-only rulers, yardsticks, and measuring tapes! Calculate in inches, feet, yards, acres — even hectares and furlongs where applicable — proudly, and preferably without rounding. Weigh your options in ounces, cups, pints, quarts and gallons. Be proud to be as American as apple pie (not streudel, not tart). Recall that President Harry S. Truman once said, “The buck (NOT, by the way, the Euro)stops here.” I, for one, am putting my 30.48 centimeters down even if it means that I risk putting those same 30.48 centimeters in my mouth.