Why Not Decimeters?

Americans are obsessed with millimeters. We use the term and measurement almost exclusively when discussing anything technical, from car suspension to computers. Occasionally, you’ll come across a rare mention of centimeter, but only as a vaguely confusion “little inch.”

Really, there’s nothing very complicated about the metric system, folks. Americans are–in typical fashion–bipolar about it. We acknowledge that it’s superior to the old British measurements (inches, yards) but quickly shift to speaking metric when falling down into the sub-inch region. Miles are accepted and still demanded, but when you go beyond the 100-mile mark the term changes to… more miles.

There is no decamile or kilomile or any such thing. When astronomers, astrophysicists deal with huge distances, they give up and use their own terms–light-year and parsec. Personally, I don’t know what’s wrong with a gigamile, petamile, and so forth, since LYs and Ps don’t translate evenly into anything recognizable to the common man.

That might very well be the point. Scientists love to flaunt their superiority. Don’t deny it. Anything you can do to prevent discussion by dullards (I have been called that by a Ph.D–yes, some revert to name calling when reason-able conversation fails). But I digress….

So, we Americans have centimeters and millimeters because we got tired of half-inch and quarter-inch and so forth. The tedium. But you’re lucky to find a single American anywhere who can convert them to inch.

And a meter is about three feet with change: 39-ish inches, right? Twelve inches per foot times three, and the remainder only becomes a problem if we’re talking a lot of them. Otherwise, most of us six footers are about two meters tall, right?


That leftover space is good for a half foot, my fellow American. So, unless you’re in the NBA, odds are you don’t rise to six and a half, more or less. Nice try, though.

Really, though. This bipolar measuring stick continued because of American productivity. The last generation has been educated with Metric more than in the past (along with British) so the old inches and feet shouldn’t last much longer.

Except that there are still millions of Boomers who will insist on it with their retirement money talking. And in America, money speaks louder than anything else.

So, why don’t we use some reasonable Metric measurements in addition to the sub-inchers on our rulers? The typical American probably is more likely to know what a nanometer is rather than a decimeter, due to all the talk in pop culture of nano-scale engineering: nanites, nano-bots, and other words of fancy. Our processors have been at the nano stage for a decade. What comes next? Whatever the new term is for trillionth of a meter, a lot of Americans will soon know it. Gamers will probably be using the term pico sooner than engineers. Especially Gamers.

Example: This article on SSDs at Anandtech.

A decimeter is 3.93701 inches. You can get away with “4 inches” as long as you don’t need to many decimeters–the rounding error becomes a problem if you ignore it. But, why not use it? We still get away with using yards–36 inches–so why not decimeters?

They divide nicely and evenly into a meter: 10 of them, in fact. Hence the name.

Since inches and feet and yards are slowly going extinct, rounding should be acceptable when talking to an old-timer or stubborn holdout. One decimeter is about 4 inches, or a third of a foot.

Or… about the width of an adult hand.

These measurements long ago came about due to the lengths of human body parts; usually the arm.

The ancient cubit, 18 inches, is about an arm’s length from elbow to fingertip.

A foot is about the length of a typical adult male shoe.

Decimeter has three syllables. That is why it hasn’t caught on in American culture. That’s the most likely explanation. Foot, inch, yard–these all have one syllable. Metric terms sounds more complicated due to multiple syllables.

Mil-li-met-er. Dec-i-met-er. 

There is a reason why meter was adopted more quickly–it’s short, with only two syllables, and close to the size of a yard.

Yes, Americans are lazy. Like water, they seek the path of least resistance. Psychologically, it may be a cultural condition where we’re so used to new invention and technology replacing manual ways of doing things that we don’t put much effort into manual processes any more. Just a theory. Didn’t spend much time thinking about it.

Americans believe someone will build another Apollo-like rocket for a Mars mission. They don’t know who will design it, and don’t particularly care. They just know someone will build it. Americans have a similar perspective on politics. Someone will fix the national debt crisis. They don’t know who or where or when, and don’t particularly care, either; they just know someone will do it. Maybe with technology. Maybe a robot or AI will take care of the mess.

Hang on, I need to run to Wal-Mart for a tissue…. Okay, I’m back.

Another thing Americans don’t like to do very much is think. If you just run to the store any time you need an item, you don’t need to make a list. What’s gasoline, a buck eighty now? Why make a list?

Not only have we lost the ability to just make a list of things to do, we can’t possibly use the age-old technique of mental list anymore. The term is alien today. If you do that, you must be a genius or something. Autistic?

In other words, not normal, not well suited for society.

For Americans to accept a change to the fabric of their lives, it has to be easy, like opening a new channel for the water to flow through. No dams or pumps or screws allowed! Downhill, flowing, open passage….

How about a DECK, as a synonym for decimeter? 

If 20 percent of us start using the word, the rest will hop on their little boats and enjoy the ride down the new waterway without complaint. 80/20 rule. Pop culture rule. As soon as someone suspects a new thing will be cool, they jump on it preemptively, hoping to be pre-cool by having seen it first. That gives a jumpstart to new ideas.

If it works for fashion, music, art, why not science?

Deck. Third of a foot. Tenth of a meter. Start using it!


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