# Question for Brits concerning Harry Potter

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Clinton McClure, Jul 16, 2005.

1. ### Clinton McClure Casual Enthusiast Supporter

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Maybe some of our English brethern can shed some light on this. I've never been across the pond so I don't know. I was thinking about this last night immediately after I wondered why aluminum foil is shiny on one side.

England uses metric instead of standard measurements correct?

In England, are the terms 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, etc... used and how does it apply to measurements? Here we say something is two and three-quarters inches (2¾") in length. In Europe do you say the same thing is 69.85 millimeters?

I'm wondering this because of the train platform in Harry Potter. What was it, platform nine and three-quarters or something like that? I know it doesn't pertain to length or volume per se, but are simple fractions part of British vocabulary or is it normally converted to something else?

2. ### BrianB Producer

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Officially, thanks to the EU, everything needs to be specified in the metric system. In reality, most Brits think/use in Empirical measurements.

For example, petrol gets sold in litres, but people still refer to galleons. Road distances are specified in miles. In shops, weights/measures are metric but the butcher will happily give you a quarter pound of roast beef.

With the train platform, it's not referring to either - each platform has a number, and the platform to Hogwarts is 9 and 3/4s, meaning it's 3/4s of the way between 9 & 10...

3. ### Marko Berg Supporting Actor

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I'm not British but I'll offer a European perspective. Fractions are of course used frequently in many if not all European languages, but not usually in measurements of length as you correctly assume.

God no. It's 7 centimeters. Maybe 70 millimeters. You would only use 69.85 millimeters if you're working in a laboratory with parts that go into the space shuttle, but usually there is no need for that kind of precision.

I mean no offence at all to Clinton who is quite simply not used to the metric system (just like I am not used to other systems), but one of my pet peeves is seeing measurements incorrectly translated. Someone with no clue has run a figure through a converter and hasn't bothered to check how the measurement is appropriately expressed in the target language. That is why I frequently see temperatures referred to in both Celsius and Fahrenheit, and measurements in two different systems, even though people have never used the other and don't understand it. The one that is inappropriate should always be deleted so that it doesn't confuse people.

I remember once seeing a translated cookbook that referred to (just an example, I'm making these volumes up) adding 3 cups of flour to a bread dough as adding 698 millilitres of flour. If it needs to be that precise, one might as well just forget about baking entirely.

4. ### Clinton McClure Casual Enthusiast Supporter

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You're correct Marko. (And I should have put it in centimeters, sorry. ) I am not used to the metric system at all. It was fun a few years ago though when I was working with design engineers who laid out all their product dimensions in metric and all our measuring devices on the shop floor were non-metric.

I still shudder when I think about trying to convert 4.5mm into a fraction of an inch.

5. ### Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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But an Imperial gallon contains 25% more fluid than does a standard one in the States.

Anyone who has ordered a pint in a pub is aware of that.

And don't forget that a person's weight is often given in stone.

6. ### Cees Alons Moderator Moderator

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And we're not consequent either.
Weight (of people, of merchandise) is still expressed in kilograms, while of course it should be newtons. If it's something in kilograms, then it's mass.

But.. in a Dutch shop we also still use the pound (1/2 kg) and the ounce (1/10 kg = 100 gr).

Marko, I find it acceptable to use Fahrenheit and Celsius next to each other, when it is expected that more people of different countries may read the text.

Cees

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It's a simple conversion, although it definitely sounds like a disconnect with the shop situation you were describing. I remember doing a design project in college, and asking a vendor for something in metric instead of English measurements. He said to me "speak American!"

8. ### Mike Voigt Supporting Actor

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Sure it is a simple conversion - but just about all shop measurements are in 1/4", 1/8", 1/16", 1/32", and 1/64".

To wit, 4.5 cm is equivalent to:

0.71 1/4"
1.42 1/8"
2.83 1/16"
5.67 1/32"
11.3 1/64"

None of these fit too well...

Another story to the same effect: when building a plant here, I was involved in taking metric measurements for pumps and converting them to US standards. It was a lovely experience. The piping length side was easy; diameters weren't, pumnp sizes varied due to the effect of 50Hz vs 60 Hz (pump delivers more at 60Hz because the same motor goes faster), which in turn affected piping sizes. Structural steel was different. Several vessels were manufactured in Europe and shipped here; they had to be adapted. Not exactly the "turnkey" installation desired... but a fun exercise anyway!

9. ### PhillJones Second Unit

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It's a common miss-conception that fractions are somehow connected to Imperial measurements and that decimals are connected to the metric system. They're not. You can have fractions of metres or feet measured to two decimal places, if you want.

I have to disagree with BrianBs that most Britons think in Imperial. I'm English and I don't. I don't know how old BrianB is but I know that the way I think about measurements is most closely related to how I was taught it in Primary schoool. We learned metric first and so that's what I tend to think in. I have to use both though, as I live in the states.

Having said that, as a scientist I tend to work in metric all the time so that might be why I still think in metric.

10. ### BrianB Producer

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I'm in my early 30s & lived in the UK up until about 5 years ago. I think I'm right that most of the people of my generation think in feet/inches/pounds rather than the metric equivalents.

11. ### PhillJones Second Unit

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I'm in my late 20s. Maybe there's a shift, or maybe it's just me and the fact that I work in metric all the time at work.

What were you taught first at school?

12. ### BrianB Producer

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Oh metric all the way is what I was taught, but every measurement outside of school was in feet/inches etc as I said earlier.

13. ### Mort Corey Supporting Actor

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I think in the US only drugs are sold in metric units Kilgrams, millimeters...sheeze, it's all French to me

Mort

14. ### Bill Cowmeadow Second Unit

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BrianB, PhillJ

I was taught in England too (I'm 46). I learned feet and inches first then Metric. I can figure out both with no problems, but I always use feet if working on something for me.

Bill

15. ### Yee-Ming Producer

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Even weirder in sports. 6-yard box and 18-yard box have a nice ring that 5.49-metre box and 16.46-metre box don't have. And it gets really weird when they talk of a spectacular strike from 25-yards out (obviously an estimate by the commentator) and convert it to the too-precise shot from 22.86 metres...

For those still puzzling it out, those are football (soccer to you Yanks) references to the goalkeeper's area and penalty area. And a 25-yard strike is fairly spectacular.

Alternatively, to "speak American", "1st and 10" sounds much better than "1st and 9.144"...

16. ### Andrew Pratt Producer

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In Canada we're technically supposed to be metric as well but like most places that have a history of Imperial we're stuck somewhere in the middle. Weights of people are usually in lbs, fuel is in litres, distances are in both depending if you're on the rural grid or on the highway and heights can go either way...though usually imperial for people's heights etc. Its weird as we find ourselves having to know and convert between both systems all the time.

17. ### Dave Poehlman Producer

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My Swiss nephew-in-law helped me frame a rec room. He just stood there shaking his head in disbelief as I called out measurements like "9 and 7/16ths".

Actually, I'd prefer going metric. In fact, I remember in 6th grade (1979-ish) there was a big push to learn metric and that someday "everyone would be using the metric system". The system makes much more sense and is easier to use.

About the only things metric around here are soda bottles, motorcycle engines, and bank thermometers.

18. ### Kevin Hewell Cinematographer

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I believe this was during the Ford administration. It was probably the last time the country was totally united about something - resistance to the metric system.

19. ### Clinton McClure Casual Enthusiast Supporter

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At work we call a crescent wrench an Arkansas Metric.

20. ### andrew markworthy Producer

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To return to the original question - the joke about 'Platform 9 3/4' is that it conjures up several images:

(1) Brits are (or were) obsessed with railway timetables, and in numerous old books (particularly detective stories) you'll find statements such as 'the train for Lower Borgling leaves Platform 9 at Paddington at 2.22 sharp'. This was back in the days when the UK had a railway service to be proud of - now you have to go to the Netherlands to find that level of efficiency (Cees will no doubt now correct me!). Thus, the idea of a platform 9 3/4 is automatically funny to some Brits.

(2) The term also conjures up images of a child very self-importantly recounting their exact age - usually around the age of nine kids start to be very aware of precisely how old they are. I personally think this is the origin of the phrase for Rowling - I wonder if when she was a little girl she once rather grandly announced that she was nine and three quarters and this remained as a family anecdote?

(3) The term could also mean a particularly large hat size (any size over 8 is big for a hat in Brit measurements).

Yes, but it gets a lot more complicated than that. Sit down, this will take some time:

(1) Metric measures (or rather, SI units) have been taught as standard in science classes at senior school (i.e. where you go from 11 years +) since the year dot.

(2) Metric measures in everyday life are these days the norm for school age kids (certainly my kids look at me blankly when I talk about pounds and ounces, though I suspect this is an act).

(3) When metric measures became taught in schools as everyday measures rather than something reserved for scientific measurement depends to some extent on which part of the country you are from (different local education authorities had different ideas about this). E.g. when I was about 10 yrs old c. 1970 I was taught metric as a scale after I'd learnt imperial measures as an alternative that I might need when, for example, ordering groceries on holiday in France. However, not much stress was placed on it. The result is that on holiday I have a tendency to buy extravagent amounts of everything because I tend to think of kilos as the exact equivalent of pounds.

(3) Because of these age differences in education, there are generation gaps in our concepts of measures. I, a Brit in his mid-forties, will happily use metric when writing a technical report, but will order food in the shops in pounds and ounces and express my height in feet and inches and my weight in (too many) stones. On the other hand, my kids would do all of this in metric. My father, who is now well into his seventies, is stuck with Imperial measures, even for many technical measures (he was a diagnostic engineer). In order to accommodate these varying needs, nearly any shop will deal in both Imperial and metric measures, but for legal requirements, the final bill is expressed in terms of metric units.