TIME Switches To The Metric System

TIME managing editor Rick Stengel has ordered his staff to go metric. Gawker has the memo:

Time is going global. And metric. Starting with the next issue, we will provide both imperial and metric equivalents for distance, weight, volume and temperature. (We’ve been doing this for some time in our graphics. Now we’ll extend this to the general text as well.) This will help ensure that one text works for all of our international editions.

In most cases, we’ll use the imperial measure first and then show the metric equivalent in parentheses: five ft. (1.5 m); 170 lbs. (77 kg); 5 gallons (19 liters); 98.6 degrees F (37 degrees Celsius).

As always, editors should use their judgment. There’s no need to convert every reference, particularly regarding sports (a 10-yard touchdown run need not be translated into a 9.14-m scamper).

While it’s simply bizarre to me that we are still on the imperial system even though the UK itself went metric decades ago, this is likely to have as much success as the effort by U.S. News in the 1980s to push simplified spelling (e.g., “employe” for “employee”).

After all, they were pushing the metric system when I was in grade school — about 35 years ago now! — and we don’t seem much closer to switching.

UPDATE: In related news, Kris at Smooth Operator is pushing a metric alphabet.

FILED UNDER: Media, Science & Technology,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. G.A.Phillips says:

    Ya I remember when they made me learn that crap, I think it was just because them damn liberal teachers wanted it because they thought it sounded artsy.

  2. Mister Biggs says:

    In Civil/Environmental Engineering we end up working in both systems ending up with mixed unit equations and fun conversion factors like 8.34 (pound-liters)/(million gallon-milligrams).

  3. Another example of Time just trying to keep up with The Economist. 🙂

  4. candi says:

    Bizarre? Hardly, it’s our culture, it’s our heritage, it’s our poetry!

    Has anyone ever written songs about kilometers? (I can see for kilometers & kilometers…)

    Has any man ever described himself as 25.4 centimeters uncut? To be honest, it loses something in the conversion.

    And, I’m sticking with the pound cake, plain, lemon or chocolate, I’m not giving it up.

  5. Kent says:

    Two predictions:

    They will irritate readers without really increasing enlightenment.

    They will take a quantity like “a pound” and convert it to “0.4536 kg” because that’s what the writer’s calculator says. Never mind that “half a kilogram” is probably a better translation of the precision of the original.

    I’ve had to wrestle with this at my military history web site, where I get a large number of international visitors who presumably would prefer measurements of ships and planes in metric units. There’s not a really good answer.

  6. Rick DeMent says:

    But gee whiz, even the most drug addled pot dealer has figured out the metric system and can convert Oz to grams in their sleep.

  7. DC Loser says:

    When I was in engineering school almost 30 years ago, all instruction was exclusively in metric units because as a trading nation, US companies have to adapt to the world, not the other way around. Frankly, I’m more comfortable working in metric units than the arbitrary and confusing english system. In the end, the market will dictate what we use.

  8. hln says:

    The United States’ major export document, the Shipper’s Export Declaration and its electronic counterpart, the Automated Export System, require that US exporters report the weight of their products in kilos instead of pounds. Why shouldn’t TIME do the same? I’m sure the staff there are always trying to find more ways to feel important and fully relevant.


  9. James Joyner says:

    I should note, too, that the United States military has been on the metric system for decades. All the maps I used in the Army were divided into metric grids and everything from shooting ranges to targeting was done in metric.

  10. For anything requiring actual calculation, I prefer metric.

    But I have a better feel for what everyday quantities expressed in English units mean.

    I’m not going to calculate the neutrino flux out of a Type II supernova in BTU per square foot per second. But I don’t really know what to make of a weather forecast in degrees Celsius until I translate to Fahrenheit. Likewise the height of an NBA player in meters.

  11. Eric J says:

    I’m really tired of Metric bashing. Anyone who works in Science, engineering, international trade, or the Military should be perfectly comfortable with metric measurement. And the Brits seem to have had no problem switching for all official measurements and maintaining traditional measurements for conversational use. (And some more archaic than ours. You’ll never hear an American say he weighs 13 stone.)