Austrians have officially given up the becher and the pfiff as units of volume. The Soviets likewise no longer use the zolotnik and the funt for weight. So why do Americans cling to such archaic units of measurement as the pound, bushel and inch? Our system of units, a modification of the so-called British imperial system, which even Britain has largely abandoned, is complicated. Converting from inches to feet requires dividing by twelve, (quick, how many feet is 97 inches?); going from pounds to ounces calls for multiplying by 16. By comparison, the metric system is a breeze: just move the...

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