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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/203

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189
THE METRIC SYSTEM.

has been in the main compulsory. As French citizens have been obliged to use francs and centimes, so must they have been obliged to use the State-authorized weights and measures. But the implication of the above statement is that the old customs have survived where survival was possible; the people can still talk in sous and ask for fourths, and they do so. Doubtless "ignorant prejudice" will be assigned as the cause for this. But one might have thought that after three generations, daily use of the new system would have entailed entire disappearance of the old, had it been in all respects better.

Allied evidence exists. While in the land of its origin the triumph of the metric system is still incomplete, in one of the lands of its partial adoption, America, the system has been departed from. It will be admitted that men engaged in active business are, by their experience, rendered the best judges of convenience in monetary transactions; and it will be admitted that a Stock Exchange is, above all places, the focus of business where facilitation is most important. Well, what has happened on the New York Stock Exchange? Are the quotations of prices in dollars, tenths, and cents? Not at all. They are in dollars, halves, quarters, eighths; and the list of prices of American securities in England shows that on the English Stock Exchange quotations are not only in quarters and eighths, but in sixteenths and even thirty-seconds. That is to say, the decimal divisions of the dollar are in both countries absolutely ignored, and the division into parts produced by halving, re-halving, and again halving is adopted. Worse has happened. A friend writes:—"When I was in California some twenty years ago the ordinary usage was to give prices in 'bits,' the eighth of a dollar—a 'long bit' was fifteen cents, a 'short bit' was ten cents. If one had a long bit and paid it one got no change—if one gave a short one no supplement was asked." Thus lack of appropriate divisibility led to inexact payments—a retrogression.

Perhaps an imaginary dialogue will most conveniently bring out the various reasons for dissent. Let us suppose that one who is urging adoption of the metric system is put under cross-examination by a skeptical official. Some of his questions might run thus:—

What do you propose to do with the circle? At present it is divided into 360 degrees, each degree into 60 minutes, and each minute into 60 seconds. I suppose you would divide it into 100 degrees, each degree into 100 minutes, and each of these into 100 seconds.

The French have decimalized the quadrant, but I fear their division will not be adopted. Astronomical observations throughout a long past have been registered by the existing mode of measurement, and works for nautical guidance are based upon it. It would be impracticable to alter this arrangement.