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Metric Transition

December 04, 1988

A colleague of mine has pointed out that a significant impediment in the conversion to the metric system may be the fact that the common units of length in the English system--inch, foot, yard, mile--are concise terms, which the average citizen is properly reluctant to abandon in exchange for something more cumbersome. The four-letter word is a vital feature of this remarkable language of ours.

It is with this in mind that it is suggested that the "hand" be revitalized as a unit of length and redefined to be exactly one-tenth of the meter, i.e., the decimeter. The meter and the centimeter are commonly used metric units, yet the decimeter is a term which seems to be avoided in technical as well as lay literature. A redefined "hand" may be of help in this circumstance.

The present "hand" is equal to 4 inches, which is 0.1016 meter; however, the low legal status of the present "hand" and its infrequent usage provide a unique opportunity to redefine it slightly. It may then find its place in our language of measurement while simultaneously advancing the metric transition.

F.W. SCHOTT

Los Angeles

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