I'll tell you why the metric system hasn't caught on. The words are too long! Kilometers. Centimeters. Milligrams, deciliters. I'd like 500 milliliters of milk, please. It just doesn't work. It's unnatural to have to pronounce words that are that long, to describe such basic concepts.

In
America, we like our words short. Inch. Foot. Yard. Mile. Pint, pound, ounce, quart. Ton. Gimme a pint of milk. Even the old-fashioned measurements are short-syllabled. Acre; Bushel; League; Knot.

You are never going to get Americans to use the metric system as long as the words are so long. So here's what I propose as a compromise.

The prefixes will be shortened: "Mi" for milli, "ce" for centi, "ki" for kilo, etc.

To indicate the unit, add a letter at the end: L for liter, G for gram, M for meter.

Some examples:
kim = kilometer
ceg (pron. seg) = centigram
kig = kilogram
mil = milliliter
del = deciliter
nam = nanometer
cem = centimeter.

If the American chaps don't want to go metric, then there's precisely nowt we can do about it. It doesn't really matter - it just means that when our metric cousins go over to the US to visit, they have to do some mental arithmetic, but since they'll have to do that for currency as well it's no major bother.

Whilst I hesitate to bring the French into a discussion on the merits of metricity, vive la difference.

I think the problem with the metric system is that everything is divisible by 10. There's no excitement, no intrique, no mystery. No wonder people find it boring. Did they do that on purpose, or was it just lack of imagination?

The solution is not to switch to the metric system. but to switch our numbering to base 12. sure dividing in half is good, but when do you have to divide something into fifths ? with base 12 we could easily divide whole numbers into halfs, thirds and quarters. so much handier.

It is strange that the "deci" and "deka" -- "one-tenth" and "ten" -- hardly ever get used, even by metritricians. Instead it's millimeter, centimeter, nothing, meter, nothing, nothing, kilometer.

I disagree with phundug's "gaping holes" statement. Fractions or X # of: Inch, Foot, Yard, Mile are regularly used, though I've never heard or seen anyone say 1/4 Grand Canyon.

Around here we just use the word ‘K’ for both speed and distance, the context distinguishing which. This is much shorter than saying miles or miles-per-hour. Do what makes sense, the language will adapt.

[phundug] - Decilitre is used in France especially in restaurants, eg you would order "Trois decis de vin blanc". In this case a decilitre is quite a handy measure.

I always get tripped up that 1cc =
1mL. At first glance, my mind
wants to expect the base units to
be equivalent, such that 1 cubic
meter = 1 Liter. Of course, if that
were the case, that would mean
that liter night at the local pub
would KILL most patrons.

[johnmeacham] Just in case
somebody needed that ability to
divide by 5, why not use a
sexagesimal (base-60) number
system like the Babylonians? It
sure makes that whole hours-
>minutes->seconds thing a lot
easier to understand. Sort of.
Okay, not really.

[GordonComstock] Actually, yes,
deciBels are 0.1 Bel.

Austrians use dekagrams, but they just refer to them as "dekas" dunno why... austrians are just special like that I guess. Also engineers do indeed use "mils" but this is not a metric measurement, it refers to 1/1000th inch. sometimes people pronounce milliliter "mil" but that is different.

Maybe Americans would accept metric measure if the spelled them correctly. "metre", "litre" //Also engineers do indeed use "mils" but this is not a metric measurement,// Military engineers (and artillerymen) also use the "mil", but as a unit of circular measure (6400mil == two pi radians == 360 degrees). Confusing, innit?

Remarkably, it's taken 3 years for someone to point out to [DrCurry] that when an engineer refers to mils, s/he doesn't mean millimeters, but rather thousandths of an inch. 1 mil is a very tiny distance, even compared to a millimeter.

Death to The Metric system - (begins to
rant) I refuse to use it!!! d'ya hear me???
REFUSE!!! The old imperial sytems is so
brilliant - how many pecks are there in a
bushel? centi-measures are for centipedes
- that's what I call them anyway (ends rant
and stares depressingly at hideous Euro
money mix in pocket, contemplating a
"money" tirade)

I would love to see this system implemented. Living in the UK, a country which supposedly adopted the metric system 40 years ago, I'm astounded how most people still primarily use inches and feet, even young people who were not taught these units at school. I'm convinced the brevity of the one syllable imperial words versus the four syllable metric words plays a big part in this.

I must disagree with those claiming this idea is already baked: simply omitting the base unit and saying "kilo" instead of "kilogram" for example leaves ambiguity. Did you ask for 1 kilogram of wool, or 1 kilometre, or 1 kilolitre (cubic metre)? "Kig", "kim" and "kil" provide double the clarity in half as many syllables.

"Klicks" (km), "steres" (m³), "graves" (kg), "tons" (Mg), etc. are all well and good but there is no pattern in how these words came about; by using these synonyms the beautiful regularity of the metric system would be confounded as everyone would have to memorise a table of familiar words for all the possible metric units. With phundug's system, if you know the long unit, you already know the short unit.

Interestingly, when thinking about this in the past, I happened to devise exactly the same system as phundug - the first consonant and vowel from the multiplier, and the first phoneme from the unit. The fact that we came up with the same system independently suggests that this is intuitive, and indeed we already use the system for one unit - "mils".

The only conflicts are between mili and micro; I would suggest using "my-" for "micro", although this has an English bias, so perhaps "mo-" or even "mu-" would be better for this exceptional case. Deci and deka would also need disambiguating in a similar way ("de-" and "da-", perhaps).

To digress, another problem we have in the UK that prevents popular adoption of the metric system is that we are told (by the British government) to only use "1000" multipliers - kilo, mili, micro etc. Not the far friendlier hecto (100), deka (10), deci (0.1) and centi (0.01) they use in the rest of Europe. Because of this, everyone thinks metric units are fiddly or cumbersome. We need those extra prefixes if the metric system is to catch on! I'm convinced people would stop using inches and feet if they knew what a decimetre was.

The reason we're stuck, [idris], is that the Thatcher government abolished the metrication board, leaving us permanently suspended between the metric and imperial systems. I'm personally a fan of neither because i believe we should adopt the duodecimal number system along with a duodecimally-based system of weights and measures. Decimal is disabling and it's feasible to count on one's fingers in duodecimal by pointing at each phalanx with the thumb and using the other hand to indicate dozens.

Anyway, we do use certain words habitually as short forms - klicks, kilos, mil (both as mm and ml) and so forth, but as you say, they're not standard. Another thing lacking regularity is non-constructed language, including English. We could theoretically all speak Esperanto but it would be difficult to impose and soon become irregular if spoken as a vernacular. That's where i think the flaw lies in this idea. It fails to take into account the way people behave in real life. It would probably work in technical registers but not colloquially.

Nineteenthly; I too am a fan of base 12 and other highly factorisable bases such as 60, when applied in a consistent way (i.e. 60, 60, 60, 60, 60 ... and not 60, 60, 24, 30.4167, 12). But even more so I am enamoured with any base which is a power of two where the exponent is also a power of 2; base 4, 16, 256, 65536 are IMHO perfect and I would gladly abandon base 10 for any of these as ten has absolutely no interesting mathematical properties.

But as you say, massive top-down changes would not find favour with most people and so only incremental changes are realistic. As an incremental change, I think phundug's metric abbreviations are plausible.

I've come up with an incremental strategy which may gradually move us towards base 16 as the standard number system, but I'll leave that for another half-bake ;-)

A lot of people are keen on powers of two, particularly hexadecimal, as number bases. Myself, i'm not so keen because: sixteen has only three factors and twelve has four; English and some other languages already have a way of counting easily in twelves but not sixteens; we appear not to have a convenient arrangement of body parts for hexadecimal, though we have for octal (fingers). Hex on that basis could involve the use of toes but that's not very convenient.

We have two thumbs and eight fingers. Two eights is sixteen.

Having a large number of factors in base 12 *is* handy but powers of two have other advantages; notice how many traditional weighing systems use base 16; 16 ounces in a pound, 16 Chinese taels in a catty, etc. This is because with a simple weighing scale, you can accurately divide a pound into half, and then half again, and then half again, and then again, and you'll be left with an ounce. It is impossible to do this with decimal (i.e. gain hectograms from kilograms using only a scale), or even twelvimal. Inches are also divided into 16ths for similar reasons; it is easier to estimate halves of distances than tenths, twelves, threes or any other fraction. So, if we're dividing by twos, it makes sense to extrapolate this upwards as well and use a power-of-two number system.

Ever notice how many points there are on a compass? Four to begin with (NESW); then for greater accuracy we doubled this number (N, NE, E, SE etc), and then did the same again (N, NNE, NE, NEE, etc) leaving sixteen. Halving and doubling are about the simplest and most natural operations you can perform on any quantity whether bags of rice, points on a compass, slices of pizza or the number of bits in a byte/word/dword/qword, and the huge number of products you find which are 500, 250 or 125 grams or ml (halves etc. of kg and litres respectively) even in metricated countries is testament to this. (Notice however that you will never find products that are 62.5 grams or ml (half of 125)! The next smallest amount will be 100, then 50, then 25! How horribly inconsistent.)

A hexidecimal enthusiast has suggested using the words ten, eleven, twelve, draze, eptwin, fim and tex for 10-16, to solve the English problem. Meaning we could call it "teximal".

There is a fantastic (and at times bizarre) book written in 1859 by John W. Nystrom espousing the virtues of base 16 and proposing a radical new system of weights, measures, counting and time: http://ow.ly/3BLet It's an enlightening read!

I'd support the hexadecimalisation of everything, but it would only work if numbers went the same way. I want to be able to count using the same number system that I use to measure and weigh everything. It's silly to adopt a different numeric system for ordinal numbers, than the one you use for weights and measures. In that respect, at least until we switch to adopting hexadecimal as our primary base for all numerics, metric has to remain the winner.

Metric means based on the metre; it does NOT mean based on ten. The word for that is decimal. Although metric systems often use power-of-ten multipliers, they very rarely use multiples of ten as such.

(Personally, I think it's a shame that metric was not designed to be partially compatible with imperial; for instance, a metre could have been chosen to equal a yard, or 30 cm to equal a foot.)

Another (equally silly) option would be to create an 'e' based system. If we counted in base e, then times tables, determining rates of change and all manner of other stuff would be nice and easy. The details are too extensive to fit in this little annotation window, but I have in my possession a neat proof that shows this is uncontrovertibly so.

I agree that it would be convenient to have an abbreviated pronunciation for each metric prefix and each SI unit so that one doesn't have to flap his jaw as much.

A lot of people already express purified protein concentrations in "migs per mil," as an abbreviation for milligrams per millilitre. I haven't heard any other abbreviations for SI units, but I would imagine that such a table has already been compiled and is floating around on the internet.

//for instance, a metre could have been chosen to equal a yard, or 30 cm to equal a foot//
The metre is (was originally) defined a 10 millionth of the distance from the equator to the pole (quite WHY, I don't know). Yards and feet are based on the human body, and of course, we are all different. Now the metre is defined from wavelengths and things. (Fun fact: the speed of light is now fixed at 299,792,458m/s. So if the speed of light is measured/calculated more precisely, it's the metre and/or second that change, not the numerical value of the speed of light.)

//the speed of light is now fixed at 299,792,458m/s// and about time too: earlier I saw a Mini Cooper almost the size of my truck - must be that relativistic shape-changing thing.