Americans measure with dogs and appliances because meters are just weird | An asteroid measured in ferrets
Reading Time: 5 minutes Aah, the universal measurement unit of ferrets...
Reading Time: 5 minutes

In my first update for a no doubt very long-running series of extremely serious information content, I am bringing you the very latest in measurement news, in a segment I am calling “Measurement News.”

Americans have long had a distaste for joining the rest of the world in taking on the metric system of measurement. In trying to deny the obvious rational sense of working in base 10, they have developed a penchant for measuring things in any number of weird and wonderful ways. Why use 30cm when you can simply use a ferret?

So this is an homage to a curious pastime, and hopefully a welcome light-hearted relief from the drudgery of real news or the assault on your gray matter that longer philosophical pieces here might present.

First, let’s pick up on that anti-metric vibe. At least, here, we have the actual unit of measurement being applied in context. This is not often the case, as you will see.

Animals are a very common form of measurement unit. This gets extra bonus points for educational content, and for having the unit of measurement relevant to local culture:

Because, as we know, 6ft is too difficult to comprehend.

6ft 2″ is a different kettle of fish. That’s a body. Or a table. That body or that table, mind.

Returning to animals, and weight in particular…

Speaking of bats…cricket bats. And this is to show that Brits have a similar penchant (Joe Root is a former England cricket captain, and Peter Crouch was a very tall former England footballer):

The first option is odd. If a foot-long Subway is, indeed, a foot long, then the 6 that was hit was, indeed, 384 feet in length. An interesting substitution…

Keeping to sport, and staying within the realm of imperial measurements, let’s talk golf:

And now pop stars. Pop star-sized animals. Or an animal-sized pop star:

Perhaps we would profit from combining animals and sports. And I give you…nature’s baseball.

Even the marketing department is onto it. But, hey, you can use animal weight measurements at home, too. Just don’t be a cock about a bit.

Where mandarins are your obvious go-to unit of weight, potatoes are your plant-based unit for volume:

No need to ask why.

For reference, though, only a bendy unit will do:

Once you prepare your food, however, it can become very useful for long-distance measurement.

Of course, it’s long past washing-machine-o’clock around here, so…:

Now that we are onto home appliances, including bathroom units, let’s talk toilets. However, this one really does confuse me. Perhaps you could enlighten me?

Wow, 7 billiard balls in one flush. Is this the polite way of measuring defecation volume? Good to know…

But it all sounds like boulderdash to me…

Something we have not yet covered in our quest for useful units of measurement is time. Really large amounts of time.


Our final topic demands a heading all of its own. Asteroids: nature’s space boulders.

Now, IFL Science should really know better, but it’s good that they are at least using a decent-enough large animal to do the unit work:

There is, of course, more.

Why, might you ask, are they referring to giraffes? Well, naturally because…

The problem with this, as well you good skeptics might have picked up, is that the giraffe is a thoroughly irregular animal. Which half? How do you cut it? Top to bottom? Longitudinally across the neck and back? Someone needs to stick their neck out and formalize this.

I literally had this conversation on Facebook only to be sent this at another time (yes, people now send me these—it’s a thing!):

But we’re not finished with asteroids. This one could have been filed under “appliances:”

That should do it for this installment of Measurement News. As an added bonus, for being early subscribers, I give you this. I?’m not sure if it qualifies as Measurement News, but it’s a gooey delight:

Which is remarkably similar to this:

So let this be a lesson to you all: go metric, it’s obviously more sensible. But in the event that you cannot comprehend the size, weight, length, or volume of something, just think up anything for comparison. It’ll do.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...