A Guide to Imperial Measurements with Matt Parker | Earth Lab

It has recently been brought to my attention
that my video on the A4 paper scale I made an apparently unwarranted number of attacks
on the imperial system of measurement and I would like to, entirely voluntary, to apologize.
Why wouldn’t you take a barley corn, as the basis of your system of measurement should
you be, I don’t know, hypothetically, an industrialised modern superpower. And to apologize I’m now
going to give you the NumberHub guide to the imperial measurement system. Because it all
hangs together so nicely! You take three barley corns that gives you an inch, you take 12
inches that gives you a foot, you take three feet and it gives you a yard, you take 1760
yards you get a mile. A mile alternatively you can split into eighths, each eighth of
a mile is a furlong, of those furlongs you can divide them into tenths and you get a
Gunter’s chain. Each Gunter’s chain you can divide into elevenths and that gives you a
fathom, if you take 15 fathoms you get a shackles or alternatively if you take 100 fathoms you
get a cable. If you take 10 cables you get a nautical mile, a nautical mile of course
being wildly different to a standard mile. If you take three nautical miles you get a
league, or alternatively if you take a nautical mile and split it into feet you get 6,080
feet. We’re back at feet, if you take a foot and divide it in thirds you get a hand, of
course a hand is exactly a third the size of a foot, each hand if you cut it in half
you get a stick, each stick if you cut it in half you get an inch. Each inch, if you
take three of them together you get a palm; a palm split into quarters gives you a digit.
Three digits give you a nail, four nails give you a span, two spans give you a cubit, a
cubit divided into thirds gives you a shatments, why wouldn’t you call something a shatments?
If you take five shatments you get a pace, if you take two paces you get a step, of course
two paces to the step, if you take four steps you get a rope, if you take five ropes you
get a Ramsdens Chain, if you take 50 Ramsdens Chains you get a roman mile. The roman mile
of course wildly different from the standard mile. Because while the Roman mile is exactly
60,000 inches, the standard mile is 63,360 inches. Speaking of inches, if you take an
inch and divide it into six you get picas, if you take picas and divide it into twelfths
you get a point. If you take a point and divide it into 20th you get twips, or alternatively
if you take six points you get a line, a line is exactly the same length as a poppy seed.
And if you take four poppy seeds you’re right back where we stared. Four poppy seeds equals
one barley corn. What a fantastically logically and consistent system of units.

100 thoughts on “A Guide to Imperial Measurements with Matt Parker | Earth Lab

  • 2:35 What a fantastically logically and consistent system of units.
    Me: Well yes, but actually NO. I lost track after the first change of unit.

  • Poor old Isambard Kingdom Brunel! All those bridges, tunnels, railways that are still working perfectly. It was only because it was later apparent that 1 chain can be converted to 20.117 metres. Of course a metre makes perfect sense in our world. It’s the distance travelled by light in a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 of a second; something I have always found to be a reliable rule of thumb. I am a fan of yours otherwise BTW.

  • I’m really sad that I was taught the imperial system. If my darn country would just use metric, we could convert in our heads, instead of literally having products that just convert!

  • Don’t know about all the imperial units, but I will say that feet and inches are far more relevant to the human scale than meters and centimeters. As an architect, imperial measurements at this scale are far easier to use since it maps the body with nuance and utilizes a base 12 number system which is much easier for dividing into whole digits. Do with that opinion as you will, I just don’t think that point is made enough

  • As a native metric person, I should say that imperial is far from useless even today. Rationally speaking, there are contexts where it's relatively more convenient than metric, for example in aviation.

    A fun fact remains that imperial is officially defined in terms of metric since about the 1850s after Westminster burnt down in London..

  • As an American…this makes complete sense to me. It's a good thing we have guns because being reminded of it…wait; maybe it's not a good thing we have guns.

  • Compare this to minecraft where we have our base unit of length, the block , as well as the pixel which is a 16th of a block, for measuring smaller distances, and the chunk which is 16 blocks and is only used for weird technical things. It’s really simple.

    Ok, I lied. We do have weird units for numbers of items. There is, of course, the item , but for measuring larger numbers of items, we use stacks which are either 16 or 64 items, depending on the item, because most things (including all blocks) can fit 64 items per slot, but throwable projectiles (and also signs for some reason) only stack to 16. If you have a really large number of items, you’d measure them in double chests , which have 54 slots, so they can fit 54 stacks of whatever item. For 64-stackable items, that’s 3,456 items. That’s almost as bad as a mile equaling 63,360 inches. Almost.

    edit: youtube comment formatting is stupid

  • Fun fact: Imperial units have been re-define to be based on metric units with a conversion factor (and an offset in case of temperature).

  • Remember the Metric system is also arbitrary. And is inconsistent as its base measurements have changed a few times over the years. There have been books written on the subject of how bad the "science" was that was used to create it.

  • Whats is realy the KELVIN measurement now that we are very much approaching the zero and what are FAHRENHEIT and on what bases was it scaled? like CELSIUS is so obvious based on and according to water states? and if they change the KELVIN would not this mean we should change the rest like JOULES and WATTS and COULOMBS?

  • I can't know if this is a joke or really the imperial system.

    Oh wait the imperial system is the joke.

  • Metric and Imperial both have advantages. Metric uses multiples of ten or one hundred for naming conventions and is very much a science and math oriented system. Imperial is more user oriented with things like the last segment of your pinky being about 1 inch, and also things like a foot being 12 inches makes it easily divisible at a glance. That last reason is why timekeeping failed to be Metricated. 10 only being divisible by 1, 2, and 5 isn't great if you regularly need to divide by 3 or 4.

    Yes Imperial has bizarre measurements that don't get used very often. But there is reasons why they exist, and that is because of who commonly used them before.

  • Kind of aggressive but not exactly wrong, but can we get a vid that makes instead of internally inconsistent.
    X feet = a mile
    X feet = league
    X leagues to a mile
    Leagues term origin is
    Mile term origin is
    So on so forth

  • It’s a Head Squeeze material on the BBC Earth Lab channel, starting with a reference to The NumberHub material, made by Matt Parker from standupmaths and Numberphile.
    And they say Infinity War was an epic cross

  • All those things are very definite, so, yeah, it's consistent.
    Let's not forget that Britain claims to use the metric system but actually uses some crazy hodgepodge of metric and imperial and are the ones responsible for the imperial system in the first place.
    Oh, and they weigh themselves in Stone, whatever that is.

  • Only 5 of those are in the american imperial system. The rest are you falsely attributing all systems of measurement ever used by humanity to the imperial system. Also, to answer your question on why the roman mile is different from the british imperial mile is that the roman mile was the measurement system used by the roman empire thousands of years ago and is not part of the american imperial system. An american historian might use the term, but it is not an official measurement recognized by the USA.

  • Irony: Patriots rebel against an imperial system in 1776 and become a progressive society with freedoms for everyone.

    Use an imperial system of measurements.

  • 21st Century Edit:
    (Ounces) Pounds
    Inches, (Feet), yards, miles
    (Fluid ounces), Teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, pints ,quarts, gallons

  • America was a mistake. When trying to gain independence from the UK, they threw away all the good things (tea) and kept all the bad things (the imperial system and imperialism)

  • It is kinda sad that Americans, including myself, who are se naïve, have to think of a pop/soda/fizzy to be able to imagine a liter. ( I’m also pretty sure that the soda isn’t even exactly a liter, either)

  • If you can tell me exactly how many fluid ounces make a pound, you really understand the American system!

  • >the snake is 12 feet long
    >How do you know that?
    >I step on the damn thing as I measure it. See? More effective than your "meters" bullshit

  • Where I come from we use the metric system, what it shows how manly you are if you can use imperial instead and you are on Chuck Norris level if you can convert back and forth and in fractions of inch, etc. No idea why.

  • “Unwarranted” attacks on imperial system? Any attack on imperial is VERY warranted. I’m American and I am jealous as heck of pretty much every other county with metrics. Celsius is also so much better than Fahrenheit.

  • What about other units? Also can we talk about how the abbreviations for imperial units work? Like how is pound lbs, ounce Oz etc.

  • bla bla bla i don't remember anything he said at first a hand a foot a gunters mile. use simpler and better systems micro meter mm cm dm m dhm km

  • Now show me how you read units of measurement smaller than 1mm off of a ruler or divide a 500g block of butter into 100g segments quickly and accurately. Metric isn't the best for all applications.

  • These are the units everyday Americans use;

    Inches/Feet/Miles (Yards are used but mostly for American football, hunting and fabrics)

    12 inches = 1 foot

    5280 feet = 1 mile

    3 feet = 1 yard

    1760 yards = 1 mile


    3 Teaspoons = 1 Tablespoon

    16 Tablespoons = 1 cup


    2 cups = 1 pint

    2 pints = 1 quart

    4 quarts = 1 gallon


    16 ounces = 1 pound

    2000 pounds = 1 ton

    All of the other units are garbage and are never used in everyday life.

  • “Hey, what’s a third of a meter?” Oh it’s simple, just a repeating decimal, since base 10 is obviously the most sensical system of measurement. We use base 10 in our numbers because we have ten fingers. That’s literally the entire reason. Not because it’s easier, not because 10 divides conveniently by lots of other numbers. The Egyptians realized this when they were trying to figure out how to measure time. Interestingly, time is the metric unit which is never put in comparison to imperial, partially because it’s the same for both, but also because the “base 10 is superior” fiction breaks down the second (see what I did there) you get to minutes and hours. Why are there 60 seconds to a minute? It seems rather inconvenient, assuming you don’t have sixty fingers. 60 turns out to be a highly composite number, which should be familiar to the mathematicians reading this. The term was coined by Ramanujan himself – they are numbers with more divisors than any smaller positive integer. Why is this important? 60 can be divided in many ways, making it convenient to ask how many seconds there are in 1/6th of a minute, or even 1/12th of a minute. While this might not seem like a big deal, imagine if there were 10 minutes in a hour. A quarter of an hour would now be 2.5 minutes (try counting that on your hands). In the horrible 60 minute system, a quarter of an hour is 15 minutes, a nice round number. This is not a great example, since obviously a 10 second minute would not be very useful (it’s almost like we ignore the “bad” metric units that never get used, like decimeters). However if you look at pretty much any of the standard conversion factors in the imperial system, you will find that they are highly composite numbers. Granted, not all are the most highly composite (this would mean no number less than them has more divisors, 5280 for instance is beat by 5040) but either way they all have more divisors than their nearest multiplicand of 10. A few of these numbers, just to set the stage, are 12, 24, 60, 180, and 360, which show up in the inches-feet conversion, time, and degrees (although radians work better for math because they are defined with respect to pi, but are still confusing because common angles tend to have radical coefficients). As mentioned, other conversions don’t have the “highly” composite property, but are still highly divisible into whole numbers, much more than can be said for 10. I would think the Numberphile math geeks would enjoy talking about the reasoning behind these conversions (convenient ways to divide a 10ft board into thirds, for example) but instead they get on the “hate the imperial system” bandwagon. Now, to be quite honest, I don’t hate the metric system at all. As a scientist, I tend to use it quite a lot, although as a physicist, Natural units are much more convenient in many situations. The metric system tends to be a one-size-fits-all measurement system (just like the rule which would prescribe an “an” in front of “one”). While metric may be useful to scientists, it actually is not convenient for general use. Sure, with imperial you have to know a few more words, but most of the words mentioned in this video are no longer. Some actually are, although they are used for specific jobs and situations, like nautical miles and leagues. Interestingly enough, the “point” measurement is the unit your fonts are measured in, and it is much more easily written in imperial conversions than the approximation in metric (0.3528). The fact that you will probably use this measurement no matter what kind of paper you are writing on shows how you really can’t get rid of the imperial system. As for science, if you really want to argue about metric vs. imperial, you might want to start with optical components, which are all measured in imperial (except for the focal lengths, which are metric). The next time you see a cool laser table, remember that the spacing of the holes on the table are likely an inch apart, and maybe you will learn time appreciate the though behind a system whose numbers don’t match up with the number of fingers you happen to have. And before you say “math is base 10” check out cyclic groups, rings, binary, and hexadecimal.

  • I actually think the best way to judge a system of measurement is how it’s used. I would never use anything but metric in science or medicine, especially if I had to do unit conversion. I can change units by moving a decimal point with little chance of error. But my hobby is carpentry. I will only do carpentry in feet and inches because it does thirds, and quarters better than metric. These are exactly what I need in carpentry.

  • Nazi-Germany fired with a 9mm Luger
    United States fired back with a .38" Revolver
    Axis lose, Allies win. (NOTE: The British Empire used 1940s American Smith & Wesson .38" Firearms to help fight the axis)

  • He's doing the system backward. It makes more practical sense when you go from big to little.
    A mile is how long the average adult male travels at 1,000 strides. (Or 2,000 steps.)
    And an acre is how much land the average adult male can work in one day.

  • I mean this stuff is easy to remember if you just base it on one thing like the foot. Also many people don't care, they just intuitively understand about how long these measurements are, which is the point of commonly used units.

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