The United States is practically the only country in the world that still uses the British or Foot-Pound-Second (FPS) system of measurement. Most everyone else uses the Metric System and it is only a matter of time before we switch. Naturally, this is going to be a sea change for us who have used the FPS system all our lives and it is not going to be easy to adjust. In this post I want to focus on how this change will affect even our language.
Certain expressions that are part of the English language will begin to lose their meaning. For example, we now use six feet as the standard for a tall man and call such individuals six footers. Somehow 1.83 meter man doesn’t quite cut it. And how will we rework phrases such as thousand yard stare or 98 pound weakling or the whole nine yards or an inch deep and a mile wide.
Proverbs will be espescially hard hit. We may have to reword An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And Give him an inch and he’ll take a foot. And, Inch by inch everything’s a cinch. And, The jouney of a thousand miles begins with a single step.And, A miss by an inch is as good as a miss by a mile. And, After dinner rest a while, after supper walk a mile.Or, Before criticizing a man, walk a mile in his shoes.
There must be many more but those are all I could think on the spur of the moment. While these phrases and proverbs may eventually become obsolete, that time is a long way off and it certainly won’t be in our lifetimes. Because of the resistance to it , the metric system is being phased in very gradually and it will be at least 20 years , if not more , before it supplants the British or FPS system.
I wonder if, now that use of English is so widespread, these phrases and proverbs will retain their meaning even after the British system is a thing of the past. I wonder also if there are phrases in other languages that incorporate metric terms and that do not transalate well into English. Any comments ?