In response to the We The People Petition to make the metric system the exclusive system of measurement in the US, the now former director of NIST, David Gallagher indicated that it is his policy on measurement to just “do your own thing.” Standards are just so restrictive for the (former) director of NIST. One of the catch phrases of 1960s America was to “do your own thing.” While in some contexts this may be admirable, when it comes to creating a consistent measuring of the world, it is generally not.
When I wrote my essay Brannock and Barleycorns, I thought it would be the last essay I would ever write on shoe size, after all there is a metric international standard called mondopoint, and there it is—for all to use. Unless of course you live in the US and feel constrained and oppressed by logical “establishment standards.” Just as a quick review, mondopoint is a standard which uses the length of a human foot in millimeters as a size designation. According to Wikipedia:
The International Standard is ISO 9407:1991, “Shoe sizes—Mondopoint system of sizing and marking”, which recommends a shoe-size system known as Mondopoint.
It is based on the mean foot length and width for which the shoe is suitable, measured in millimetres. A shoe size of 280/110 indicates a mean foot length of 280 millimetres (11 in) and width of 110 millimetres (4.3 in).
Because Mondopoint also takes the foot width into account, it allows for better fitting than most other systems. It is, therefore, used by NATO and other military services. Mondopoint is also used for ski boots.
I’ve never snow skied more than once, so I don’t normally look into the size of ski boots. One day I was corresponding with Peter Goodyear in Australia by email and mentioned that I had heard we use mondopoint for ski boots, so perhaps there is some hope in the next century or two to get this sizing of shoes introduced more generally. Here is what you find if you look at an Australian website for mondopoint:
There it is, nice integer shoe size numbers in millimeters as mondopoint was designed to produce, and as nature intended. All was well with the world until I began looking at US websites for ski boots. The first one has this:
Yes, the US “do your own thing,” measurement spirit invaded the mondopoint standard. The international standard, which is in millimeters, had been unilaterally changed to centimeters by US ski boot vendors. We must have numbers which are like inches, (i.e. pseudo-inches), and insert decimal points or we just feel too constrained by the unfamiliar. I’m sure NIST would approve of this, if they aren’t concerned their act of approval of anything metric might be too constraining and make people feel uptight. When wearing ski boots one doesn’t want to have a bad trip.
One US website feels overly-constrained to even be bothered with units. They boldly use centimeters without bothering to tell us they are now two steps away from the mondopoint standard:
One website even has a history of mondopoint for us to read. It is most enlightening:
So, mondopoint was developed by ski boot manufacturers?—as a universal measurement for ski boots and is designated in centimeters? That’s not what the international standard indicates, as I understand it. Perhaps this is a Hollywood version of metric history. You know, like U-571, where it was the British that captured an enigma machine in WWII in reality, but we’ll just change it so that the US did it instead for the movie version. Who would know the difference? Thank heavens the UK has become mostly metric. I’m sure I can trust them to get history—what?–wait—what’s this?:
Why is it the only people who take metric seriously, and also speak English, appear to be the Australians. Is it because they are so far away from our bad influence? I believe much of the problem is that in the US, millimeter-only metric rulers are almost non-existent, and the desire for a pseudo-inch is so attractive, that we cannot think outside the centimeter. Without the extraneous comfort of an unnecessary decimal point or fraction to contemplate, we break out in a sweat considering the possibility that actual change might be encountered. Perhaps the biggest problem in the US when it concerns measurement, might be that we simply don’t view innumeracy as a serious personal deficiency, and perversely seem to celebrate this inability to understand magnitudes. The confusion of a factor of ten can really mess up a dimension. Perhaps this explains the origin of platform shoes?