This is topic Metric or imperial in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
Just wondering about using measurements in stories. I grew up during the transition phase here in Australia as we went metric; so I can think and visualise in both. However, in considering which to use, do we assign more weight to the possible market or the genre and milieu of the story.

My story Daisyworld is set in the future and I'm comfortable using metric measurements all through. My story Æsir Dawn is another matter. The characters and milieu use imperial, well, actually a form of pre-imperial measurement where a foot isn't quite a foot etc.

Any suggestions?

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
SF = metric.
Fantasy = Imperial (or something else).
Posted by rstegman (Member # 3233) on :
It does not matter, really, as long as you define it early and stay with it.

The normal forearm is about a foot, a tall man is about two yards (or near a meter), A normal knuckle is about an inch, a heavily laden Roman solder could run about a stadia and still fight,

Basically, give a good definition of what the distance is, and then use it as if the people are comfortable with it.

One could The diameter of the sun, or the orbit of the planet, or the orbit of the space station around the planet or the planet diameter (what the metric system was supposed to be but they made a mistake and now a metal bar in an observatory) or the diameter of the space station.
It does not matter what system is used. They always have divisions that are useful for everyday use.
Of course, My brother spend some years overseas. As long as he did not have to convert, he had no problems with whatever system was in use. He simply worked in that system.

It is always so much easier to deal with new definitions and concepts if you have a visitor who does not know the system. They get to have the system explained to them and then the reader knows...
Posted by JSchuler (Member # 8970) on :
By 2137, both Metric and Imperial will have been replaced by Galactic Standard as instituted by the Hyadan Authority. Usage of alternative systems will, naturally, be grounds for immediate adjustment, and all surviving works of fiction (fiction is defined to include any book that supposes civilization existed in any form before the arrival of the Authority) that conform to the Authority's Eight Virtues will have whatever units used converted. Of course, those that don't meet the Eight Virtues will be erased or edited into compliance.

So, really, the question is moot, as the choice will be made for you.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Imperial measurements are based on human scale-relative observations. The foot for a foot, a yard for a pace or the span between a nose and a fingertip of an outstretched arm, a furlong for a mentally countable number of paces, a thumb width for an inch. A cubit for the length from an elbow to the middle fingertip. Subjective, though, of course -- body scales vary individually.

British law established courts of oyer and terminer to hear felonious measure disputes, which led to standardization. Before standardization, anyone could define whatever measure they wanted and consumers had to bear it or seek their custom elsewhere, where, hopefully, a more favorable measure could be found. Publicans were notorious for using pint and quart ale tankards that favored the house, each sale a petty fraud though amounted to a felony by sheer volume.

Land surveyors, coopers, wainwrights, potters, yada, yada, yada, whatever, whoever had superior standing imposed his or her measure as he or she saw fit and to his or her own favor.

For an alternative world measure system, conflict is a potential source for complication, contention, confliction, and confrontation. Say everyone uses a thumb width as a small measure, and my thumb is half again wider than yours. . .

Butchers and retailers who sell by weight measures have a standing inside joke about a pound and a thumb plus -- a short pound of product and a thumb pressed on the scale to add up to a priced pound and a few ounces over. Grocers, retailers, wholesalers, and re-packagers today practice similar and more measure shaving methods.

Metric standards are based on scalable gradients and base 10 mathematical convenience. Therefore, human-scalable or exponential-scalable measures? is to me the question; in other words, folk or scientific measures? Or both? so long as the measure systems are relevant to milieu and action.

[ April 03, 2015, 03:36 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
The set of measures we've been calling "Imperial" evolved over centuries with the people involved at every step of the way, to the point where they were comfortable with their use.

Metrics were devised by scientists and foisted on the unsuspecting public by bureaucrats and tyrants; they're nothing the people wanted or particularly needed.
Posted by Reziac (Member # 9345) on :
In my SF, I use metric when I need to be precise, or terms like "a handspan" or "a fingerlength" or "a bucketful" when it's a form of "some" or "this many" or "that much".

I went with metric because there's a sort of tradition, even in non-Earth SF, of using metric. This probably comes out of the era when metric was still relatively exotic, and by its nature, foreign (Robert Nowall hits that nail on the head) and therefore indicative of "not here and now".

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