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008 - So, Who’s Right? Part 2

So, Who's Right - Part 2

Jack:                “Manny, how come we don’t use the metric system?”

Manny:             “My dear Jack, I think you are in for a surprise.”


Jack:                “What do you mean?”

Manny: “We are the first country to have used the metric system. Of course, we didn’t call it that; we called it the ‘decimal system’ and have been extremely successful in its use.”

Jack:                “Manny, you are the one for a big surprise. We don’t use the metric system in the U.S.”

Manny:             “Yes, we do. We started using it after our War of Independence or Revolutionary War. We did it because pounds, shillings and pence were rather confusing. For example, the thirteen colonies used pounds but most of these had different values. This was a problem for commerce so most merchants and people traded using the Spanish dollar, which was minted in the capital city of New Spain, that is, Mexico City, and it was almost pure silver.”

Jack:                “But, Manny, how do you go from dollars and cents to kilograms and liters?”

Manny:             “Didn’t you learn that in school? I had a wonderful teacher and he explained the metric system in rather simple terms.”

Jack:                “How did he do it?”

Manny:             “After our successful War of Independence, the French Revolution came about and the French decided to implement the same system we had, that is, dollars and cents; the only differences, of course, were the name of the currency and the fact that they extended the use of this decimal system to other measurements, such as volume and weight.”

Jack:                “Well, I don’t know; to me it is kind of confusing.”

Manny:             “Let me explain the metric system to you the same way they explained it to me in grammar school.”

Jack:                “If it doesn’t take too long, by all means, go ahead.”

Manny:             “You see, Jack, in those days merchants used to sell cloth by unfolding the material from the middle of their chest to the tip of their middle fingers while keeping their right arms fully extended. Well that measurement varied with the size of the merchant or the person extending the piece of cloth; they sometimes used a child. This was not a very popular practice among customers.”

Jack:                “How did they fix this?”

Manny:             “They decided to use a stick which measured exactly what we call today a meter and do with it what we, Americans, had done with the dollar.”

Jack:                “What did we do with the dollar?”

Manny:             “We divided it into tens of a dollar; commonly known as dimes. So, they divided the meter into tens of a meter, or decimeters. They then decided to divide each decimeter into tens, similar to what we did with the dimes, with the result being centimeters for the meters and cents for the dollar. We also call these coins pennies.”

Jack:                “But, I find it confusing when I see things written in meters. If it’s so easy, why do I find it difficult?”

Manny:             “Because you are using meters differently than dollars. Let me explain, when you go to the store to buy something, let’s say a candy bar, and you ask for its price, the salesperson will say something like: ‘a dollar and twenty-five cents.’ Well, you should use the same style when using meters. Suppose that your daughter is 1.25 meters high, you should say: my daughter’s height is ‘a meter and twenty-five centimeters,’ but some people say ‘one hundred and twenty-five centimeters,’ which I find terribly confusing. How would you like it if the price of the candy was given to you as: ‘one hundred and twenty-five cents’?”

Jack:                “That sounds ridiculous. I see your point, but what about volume and weight?”

Manny:             “Ah, to measure volume, the group of men gathered in Paris, decided to make a cube which measured a decimeter on every side and they call that a liter. You fill the cube with water, you get a liter of water, you do it with gasoline and you get a liter of gasoline.”

Jack:                “What about weight? How did they do it?”

Manny:             “According to my teacher, one of them said that they needed to fill the cube with the commonest liquid they had and then determine its weight and that that would be equivalent to a kilogram, or kilo for short. Immediately, a man opened a bottle of wine and began pouring it into the cube. He was stopped, of course. One of them screamed, ‘what are you doing?’ and the man answered, ‘filling it with the most common liquid we have.’ And the other man said, ‘I meant water, not wine.’ Well, you know, after all they were in France.”

Jack:                “So, then what happened?”

Manny:             “They replaced the wine with water and took that weight to be a kilogram. But, you know something; the teacher said that wine and water weigh exactly the same, and to this day I want to do that experiment. You know, measure the weight of both, a liter of water versus a liter of wine just to double-check if they are the same.”

Jack:                “And why haven’t you done it?”

Manny:             “Because the teacher did not specify if the wine was red or white.”

Jack:                “And do you sincerely believe that we are going to use the metric system?”

Manny:             “After this beautiful explanation? Of course we will.”


Text and illustrations © Jacob A. J. Taylor 2013

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