Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/96

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Besides the units of a system, the names are to be considered; this leads us to by far the most important subject of discussion—

Nomenclature.—Let us with this begin a lesson derived from the actual observation of human habits. The case of the French has been already cited: they adopted the new units, but rejected the new names. This is very suggestive. In the United States a similar instance occurs in the names of coins. We still have, in many parts of the country, shillings, sevenpences, thrips, etc. In New Orleans we get bits in change. In the great commercial city of New York prices are still given, and goods marked, in shillings, viz., 6 shillings a yard, not 75 cents; ten shillings, not $1.25.

What is the lesson from all this? Plainly, that new words are harder than new things. How much easier, too, were the names of the new coins than the long and learned names of the metric nomenclature!

"None of your Latin for me!" begs the Frenchman, unfamiliar with that tongue. "Especially, none of your Greek! It is enough if I accept your units; pray excuse me from your names." And even the French Government, which attends to everything, has had ill success in this. The Englishman finds in French forms and accents additional impediments. Unless corrected, he would, to begin with, mispronounce fully half the words; knowing barometer and thermometer, he would be sure to say "ki-lom-e-tre" also.

Seriously, it were easier for the learned to acquire a nomenclature founded on Hottentot and Sanskrit, dressed off in Kamchatkan forms, than for the unlearned to acquire one in Latin and Greek with French forms; the learned have some familiarity in dealing with new languages to start with. The metric words are ferœ naturæ to all people, and will not domesticate. To the common people they are simply outlandish, and "neither have the accent of Christians, nor the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man."

Broadly, a system of weights and measures furnishes no case for learned nomenclature. The system is intended for wholly untechnical uses and people, while the words are adapted only to the learned, and even for them are too stiff for daily use. It is clearly a case for easy and familiar names.

More results hinge on the nomenclature than on any other feature of the system; yet it has received little real discussion; it has been simply taken for granted on its looks and outside. Indeed, it has been the boast and pet of the whole metric system, unsuspected as really the chief clog upon its progress. Brought to the tribunal of fair criticism, it is thoroughly unphilosophical, and needs to be remodeled in the light of modern investigations into the first principles of language, all of which principles it violates.

Take the first word of the first table—millimetrewithout explanation, aliunde, it conveys no information even to a learned man. Metre is merely a measure, not any definite measure, not even necessarily a