The Petite Cottage 🏠

The Imperial System's Weirder Than You Think

Everyone loves attacking the Imperial system. All the cool kids do it:It’s just so terrible. And you know what? I think I’ll pile on and give the horse a few kicks, too.

When complaining/attacking the Imperial system, peoples’ analyses usually end after looking at this:

unit relation to previous
inch
foot 12 inches
yard 3 feet
mile 240 yards

In their defense, this is definitely grounds enough to attack the Imperial system for. I mean, 12–3–240? The intervals are so ugly, so inconsistent! But I’d like to go a little farther than that. Lets peek behind the curtain, shall we?

I was writing some conversion functions for a calculator program I use (bc) for the Imperial system. I wanted to be able to write something simple for conversions, like: ft2in(10) or in2cm(123), to convert feet to inches, or inches to centimetres, etc, etc. I don’t know this stuff by heart (only nerds do), so I checked the Imperial system Wikipedia page for reference. Oh, what a shock I was in for.

It turns out the Imperial system is a lot more comprehensive than just the four units from before. Here’s the Imperial system’s final form:



unit relation to previous
thou
inch 100 thous
foot 12 inches
yard 3 feet
chain 22 yards
furlough 10 chains
mile 8 furloughs
league 3 miles

You know how people that use Imperial will generally use milimetres as the unit smaller than inches? Hell, every ruler in the US uses inches and milimetres, even. Well, it turns out there is no need to mix two different systems: Indeed, a smaller Imperial unit exists. The “thou”. The thou. And you know what? It’s actually pretty nice. 100 thous make up an inch– what a clean interval!

Oh, and chains? Furloughs? Leagues? Yup, those are all things, too– admittedly less useful, but existent none the less.

All of these units are pretty archaic, for the most part, it looks like they mostly fell out of use in the 1900s– even countries using Imperial officially don’t use them anymore. But they’re still a part of the system, even if they aren’t functionally or legally– so I can still justifiably ridicule them. :)

So, the intervals really are: 100–12–3–22–10–8–3. It looks like random bullocks to you or I, yea, but I wanted to be sure– you know, for the sake of intellectual honesty and all that. I put my top chemists and mathematicians to work.

I stared at them lovingly as they crunched numbers, exchanged fluids in flasks with fluids in other flasks (sometimes sodium chlorate, other times coffee), and tore hair out of their scalps.

By the time the bell struck midnight, a near unanimous conclusion was reached: “Boss, it’s fucked. Please, can we go home now?”

There was one guy, though, that insisted that there was a logic to it. He gestured wildly at his white-board littered with Post-it notes and incomprehensible scrawls in blue marker. He claimed that, apparently, if you took the square root of the total number of units, returned it’s tangent, then found it’s base–17 root, then took it to the power of your mother’s phone-number, you’d get the interval for yard to chain. It was an entirely different process for each interval.

So, indeed, there is very little logic to it. It’s basically fucking random. It’s disgusting.

I’ll admit, these additional units would actually be useful if we had to use Imperial. It’s like asking if you’d rather eat a dead rat or a dead dog– Imperial without these units, or Imperial with? There’s only one option that’s slightly better than the other.

If those are the only options, I guess I’ll eat the dog…