Sunday 28 July 2019

Give him an inch and he'll take a metre

Mocking Jacob Rees-Mogg for his style guide to staff in his new office is fun, and very easy to do, but probably only encourages him.  It’s almost as though he is inviting people to continue to refer to him as the member for the eighteenth century; for him, living in the past is a badge of honour rather than a criticism.  His insistence on the use of imperial measures, though, is more than mere eccentricity – it is potentially dangerous.
The UK formally adopted metric measures in 1965 (pre-dating, and nothing to do with, membership of the EEC/EU), which means that those of us educated during the 1950s and 1960s were initially taught in imperial and subsequently in metric.  It also means that any child receiving the majority of his or her education after 1965 – so born after around 1960, and therefore currently sixty years old or younger – would have been largely or even exclusively taught to measure distances, weights and volumes in metric units.  I don’t know what the age profile of the staff is in his new office, but given the demographic in the population and the traditional ability of civil servants to retire before state pension age, I’d bet that there are very few for whom use of imperial measures will be entirely natural.  He is effectively asking anyone writing a report for his eyes to ‘translate’ all measurements to a system which has barely been taught in schools (although perhaps Eton is an exception?) for the best part of half a century.
The potential consequences for the Leader of the House of Commons are probably not as significant as the loss of a Mars probe by NASA, but it’s almost guaranteed that the enforced translation of quantities into an antiquated system of measures with which most people are no longer familiar will lead to a misunderstanding sooner or later.  There are good reasons for standardising on a single system of measurement, and none at all for insisting on a different one.  Unless, that is, you consider that the determination of an individual to live 300 years in the past constitutes good reason for anything.


dafis said...

hearing this drivel from JRM has become tedious. He was mildly funny way back when he was a bit of a novelty act but the penny dropped that he was made this way and was not likely to change. That realisation made him one of the repulsive faces of English Toryism, maybe not the most as there are shed loads of contenders for that title, but a dangerous person as he is highly intelligent able to put all sorts of deviant spin on his hugely reactionary set of beliefs. Like Boris he is a bit of an icon for people who crave "to be led" but why do they almost always go for the obvious duds ?

glynbeddau said...

In 1974, Prime Minister Harold Wilson confirmed that the government would use the word billion only in its short scale meaning (one thousand million). In a written answer to Robin Maxwell-Hyslop MP, who asked whether official usage would conform to the traditional British meaning of a million million, Wilson stated: "No. The word 'billion' is now used internationally to mean 1,000 million and it would be confusing if British Ministers were to use it in any other sense. I accept that it could still be interpreted in this country as 1 million million and I shall ask my colleagues to ensure that, if they do use it, there should be no ambiguity as to its meaning."

The confusion continues however and I wonder if Jacob Rees-Mogg would like to revert to the 1,000,000,000,000, , as defined on the long scale and confusing us all.