How much would that be in fathoms per hogshead?

Yesterday, an editor at Fox News seems to have been cruising on automatic pilot when adding metric equivalents to an AP story on crash test results (“Small Cars Get Poor Marks in Collision Tests“, 4/14/2009):

The tests involved head-on crashes between the fortwo and a 2009 Mercedes C Class, the Fit and a 2009 Honda Accord and the Yaris and the 2009 Toyota Camry. The tests were conducted at 40 miles per hour (17 kilometers per liter), representing a severe crash.

40 miles per gallon is 17 kilometers per liter.

[Hat tip to fev at HeadsUp the blog]

1. Ast A. Moore said,

April 15, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

I wonder where they got the number 17 itself. Forty miles/hour is about 64 km/hour.

2. Andrew M said,

April 15, 2009 @ 7:00 pm

I’ll bet this happened when the writer tried to type in “40 mph” in Google, but accidentally put in “40 mpg.” This seems to be a cousin of the Cupertino effect.

In any case, don’t metric mileage minders use L/100 km, not km/L?

3. sleepnothavingness said,

April 15, 2009 @ 7:09 pm

Interestingly, 17 km/l is almost exactly 40 mpg (39.98).

Just to clear up any bewilderment.

4. HP said,

April 15, 2009 @ 7:10 pm

559 fathoms per hogshead (std. US – wine)

652 fathoms per hogshead (std. US – ale)

5. Chris said,

April 15, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

If you factor out the conversion from miles to km (1.6 km/mi), you can work out that they were assuming a liter is equivalent to about 16 minutes. Easy conversion between time and volume is one often overlooked advantage to the metric system.

Presumably this is an empirical physical relationship, and there is a Standard Liter of Beer and a Standard Graduate student in a glass case in France somewhere, who can drink that beer in 16 minutes, whenever calibration is needed.

6. Ryan Denzer-King said,

April 15, 2009 @ 7:23 pm

I don’t know how they do things over in them metric countries, but the Standard Graduate Student here in Montana can drink a beer in well under 16 minutes.

7. Noetica said,

April 15, 2009 @ 7:26 pm

In Australia we measure fuel consumption in litres per hundred kilometres, for a reason that no one seems able to articulate.

8. sleepnothavingness said,

April 15, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

@HP:

194 nanoparsecs per hobbit.

If you look at fuel consumption from a dimensional analysis perspective, the units pan out to inverse area.

Thus 40 mpg is really 4200 per acre.

9. HP said,

April 15, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

sleepnothavingness: I was just trying to answer the question posed in the post’s title. (880 fathoms/mile x 40 miles) / (54 gallons/hogshead of wine) — you know, the standard formula for converting mpg to fph that we all learned in school.

Quick: convert fathoms per hogshead to 市里 per 市斗. It’s fun!

But since you mentioned nanoparsecs, I’ve long thought that we should use light/time as the standard unit of length.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the store to pick up a cubic picolightsecond of milk.

10. Andrew said,

April 15, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

Ryan Denzer-King: Yes, but the standard beer that your standard graduate is drinking is probably less than a litre.

11. James said,

April 15, 2009 @ 8:51 pm

Noetica: Measuring fuel consumption in liters per 100 km is yet another supremely sensible thing about Australia. The liters and the km are not important–what’s important is doing it as fuel per distance, rather than the other way around. There are a few reasons for this. One is that it is much less common to be in the situation of having to decide how far you can go on a given amount of fuel than of having to decide how much fuel you need to go a given distance. So fuel per distance is more directly relevant than distance per fuel. (People aren’t so good at taking reciprocals in their heads.) Another way of putting it is that people are very good at thinking in terms of dollars per item but not so good at items per dollar. Dollars per item is essentially the same as liters per km. Last, it also makes it clear how much more important it is to eliminate the low-efficiency cars than it is to improve the mid-efficiency ones. This is because the function 1/x is basically zero for biggish values of x but is really big for small values of x.

12. sleepnothavingness said,

April 15, 2009 @ 9:20 pm

@HP:

I was just looking for an excuse to use “hobbit” in its volumetric sense (20 gallons).

Nobody noticed. And they call themselves “linguists”.

13. Tom said,

April 15, 2009 @ 9:34 pm

James,

I often have (e.g.) ten bucks in my pocket, need gas, put the fourish gallons in, set my odometer to zero and think “100-130 miles, depending on conditions”.

Plus, maybe we should be encouraging people to develop their mental math skills.

14. marie-lucie said,

April 15, 2009 @ 9:45 pm

James, excellent reply to Noetica. I’ll just add that this system of calculating fuel efficiency is not peculiar to Australia but is also used in Europe, and no doubt elsewhere where the metric system is used.

15. Gwillim Law said,

April 15, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

@sleepnothavingness:

> Thus 40 mpg is really 4200 per acre.

According to my calculations, 40 mpg in inverse acres is 40 * (12 * 5280)^3 / (640 * 231), which works out to about 68,819,821,714 per acre.

16. James Rust said,

April 15, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

I often heard “furlongs per fortnight” as a whimsical measure of speed (around 1960).

17. John Cowan said,

April 15, 2009 @ 11:00 pm

See the Potrzebie System of Units.

18. sleepnothavingness said,

April 16, 2009 @ 12:28 am

@Gwillim: Glad you picked me up on that.

19. John said,

April 16, 2009 @ 12:32 am

@sleepnothavingness

Searching Google for ‘hobbit “20 gallons”‘ yields nothing like what you are claiming. Are you sure you’ve got the word right?

20. Dan S said,

April 16, 2009 @ 2:02 am

Really, John? I might not find “20 gallons” but google does give me: 4 oz oil per gal for a Honda Hobbit. And a gallon per acre for the mowing of somebody called Hobbit.

I’m sure y’all can work with that.

21. Cheryl Thornett said,

April 16, 2009 @ 2:22 am

And why shouldn’t the story have been put the other way around? ‘Big cars are killers’ rather than ‘small cars do worse in crashes’. Surely this is egregious sizism. (As seen by a driver of a very small car.)

22. misterfricative said,

April 16, 2009 @ 3:48 am

@ John: Try searching on ‘hobbit unit’ instead. Apparently the volumetric hobbit was formerly used in Wales, where it was equivalent to four pecks or two-and-a-half imperial bushels.

23. D.O. said,

April 16, 2009 @ 4:34 am

40 mpg = 2 217 600 fathoms per hogshead according to Google, but you may consider it cheating just to google and not labor through unfathomable calculations until your upper chamber turns into a hogshead, so I will not claim the prize.

24. Stephen Jones said,

April 16, 2009 @ 5:47 am

Serious research in my university days led to the measurement of three-and-a-half piss-ups per hogshead. If anybody knows of an academic institution prepared to fund the study, I would be fully prepared to try and replicate the results.

25. Nigel Greenwood said,

April 16, 2009 @ 6:30 am

@ D.O.: 40 mpg = 2 217 600 fathoms per hogshead according to Google

Just in case other readers don’t know this (though obviously DO does), you can get this sort of answer directly from the Google search box: just type in “40 mpg in fathoms/hogshead”. Some calculations can be phrase very succinctly: “au/c” will immediately give you the time it takes the sun’s light to reach the Earth.

26. sleepnothavingness said,

April 16, 2009 @ 8:38 am

@John:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobbit_(unit)

Two and a half bushels to the hobbit, 8 gal/bushel.

OK so it’s a stretch.

As a physicist, I find one of the more useful coincidences (for guestimation purposes) is that one nanosecond is the time it takes light to travel about a foot.

27. Faulty Unit Conversion « 360 said,

April 16, 2009 @ 8:39 am

[…] Unit Conversion By Batman Language Log has a post up (via HeadsUp the blog) about a Fox News story that had some metric issues: The tests […]

28. Jon Peltier said,

April 16, 2009 @ 8:46 am

In the preceding paragraph, they had a handful of mpg – km/l conversions. The editor saw another numeric value and automatically applied the same conversion and labels.

[(myl) Exactly. That’s what I (it seems confusingly) meant by “on automatic pilot”.]

29. Chris said,

April 16, 2009 @ 9:30 am

And why shouldn’t the story have been put the other way around? ‘Big cars are killers’ rather than ‘small cars do worse in crashes’. Surely this is egregious sizism. (As seen by a driver of a very small car.)

Are big car-big car crashes more or less deadly than small car-small car? The answer to that question would determine whether being in a small car, or being hit by a big car, was more important to your risk of death (per crash) and thus, which way a responsible journalist would frame the issue.

If you can find a responsible journalist, that is. I hear Diogenes is on the case.

30. Gregory Ward said,

April 16, 2009 @ 9:51 am

Note Mark’s use of “TWBX” in the title of this post — the construction has really caught on!

31. Nigel Greenwood said,

April 16, 2009 @ 11:07 am

@ sleepnothavingness: As a physicist, I find one of the more useful coincidences (for guestimation purposes) is that one nanosecond is the time it takes light to travel about a foot.

I’m sure you also appreciate the fact that 1 newton ~ the force of Earth’s gravity on an object with a mass of about 100 g (such as a small apple).

32. Bobbie said,

April 16, 2009 @ 11:33 am

In very specific terminology: I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck…. Hug around the neck and a barrel and a heap…. Just add a few nanoseconds, one acre, a few furlongs, some rods and chains, 6 fathoms, and a large amount of beer and you’ve solved some equation or other! Or you’ll be too tipsy to care!

How come Algebra I was never this much fun?

33. Robert E. Harris said,

April 16, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

Furlongs per fortnight reminds me of my creation. In the early 1950’s, Nelson Smith was writing a general chemistry exercise book, and several of his students were asked to help with checking solutions to problems and finding examples. He was working on unit conversion exercises and wanted some examples of measurements that had units that started with the letter “f” to go with “fathoms per fortnight” which he intended to use. I came up with something like funts per flagon (density in Russian pounds per wine gallon.) I don’t think this got into the book.

Russ Rowlett has a nice dictionary of units at http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/introd.html.

34. Chris said,

April 16, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

@ James:

I suspect that the reason the Australians (and others) use volume/distance rather than distance/volume isn’t mathematical, but linguistic. If you don’t measure with mileage, what do you use? Kilometerage? No, that will never do, so invert the ratio and call it consumption.

Tangential question: why do we say “What kind of mileage do you get?” rather than “What mileage do you get?” Is “kind of” there to allow that the answer will probably be approximate?

35. haruspex said,

April 16, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

Barbara Ninde Byfield’s The Glass Harmonica: A Lexicon of the Fantastical has a great little chart showing how many pipkins are in a firkin, or is it the other way round. I wouldn’t take it for science, but it’s a highly enjoyable book (reprinted as The Book of Weird). “Bats find sunlight vulgar.”

36. Dennis Brennan said,

April 16, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

for all your needs in converting square attoparsecs to the size of Wales

37. Thor Lawrence said,

April 16, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

For a discussion on variability in units, see The New Englander of September 1879, the first article of which is “Shall the metric system be made compulsory?
Yrs
Thor

38. Nigel Greenwood said,

April 16, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

@ sleepnothavingness redux: As a physicist, I find one of the more useful coincidences (for guestimation purposes) is that one nanosecond is the time it takes light to travel about a foot.

… as is confirmed if you type “c in ft/ns” in the Google search box.

39. David said,

April 16, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

FWIW, in Sweden the ratio is always given in l/mil, where one mil (cognate with “mile”) is exactly 10 km. (It used to be something like 10.8 km before metrication in the late 19th century and was then changed to fit with the new system.) This is one of the few official uses of the mil, which otherwise exists as a common and very handy term for rough distances longer than, say, 3 km (beyond which you can usefully approximate most things in terms of mil or half-mil [being a neuter noun ending in a consonant, the indefinite plural form of “mil” is the same as the singular in Swedish and Norwegian]).

40. Mark F. said,

April 16, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

sleepnothavingness said,

If you look at fuel consumption from a dimensional analysis perspective, the units pan out to inverse area.

Or, even more fun, if you look at the metric-style liters/100 km, it just comes out as acres (or hectares, if you prefer). And you can interpret that as the cross sectional area of gasoline that you would scoop out as you moved forward.

HP said,

But since you mentioned nanoparsecs, I’ve long thought that we should use light/time as the standard unit of length.

Oh, but we do. The official definition of a meter is 1/299,792,458 of a light second. It’s been that way since the ’80s.

41. Fred said,

April 16, 2009 @ 5:03 pm

@Nigel, @sleepnothavingness:

Or, as I Googled it: “c * ns in feet”

Funny how we think differently.

42. Noetica said,

April 16, 2009 @ 6:58 pm

James, I agree that there are many good reasons for living in Australia (though ready access to cheap books, without prohibitive delivery costs from Amazon and its resellers, is not among them).

I don’t know whether the reason you propose for adopting l/100km is the one that actually convinced people, way back when we made the shift. Arguments could be mounted the other way. I suspect that following an international trend had more to do with it. That would be more our way :) . If most of Europe does uses l/100km (Sweden an exception), that would be enough to explain it. I do know that this particular switch was painful. Many simply gave up, and old-timers even now speak vaguely of kilometres per tankful, or pass over the matter in silence.

Mind you, I’m all in favour of our eminently sane metric system. I recommend it to the US, along with gun control and other humane reforms that the rest of the world understands rather better, I think.

43. sleepnothavingness said,

April 16, 2009 @ 8:57 pm

@everyone

Oh this is good.

Nigel, I had no inkling that one decikilogram approximated the weight of an apple.

I had no idea that it was possible to use Google instrumentally do unit conversions in such a simple way.

I never realised that Aussies would rejoice in any kind of measure wherein smaller was better (and to be honest, I suspect okker blokes get a kick out of kicking against the sharp spiny things).

But what I can’t reconcile is why sharp-eyed linguists rail against dimensional solecisms while giving a free pass to stories that lead with “Boy falls into vat of acid” when the substance is that the kid dropped into caustic soda. Why shoot just one species of fish in the barrel?

44. sleepnothavingness said,

April 16, 2009 @ 8:58 pm

Insert “to”, obviously.

45. Daniel Barkalow said,

April 16, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

Personally, I prefer to know that the wavelength of wifi is about 5 inches (unless you’re using the newfangled 2-inch wifi, of course).

46. jaap said,

April 17, 2009 @ 2:21 am

sleepnothavingness: … decikilogram

In case you weren’t joking, this would normally called a hectogram. Or a metric ounce.

Why hasn’t anyone mentioned the microcentury yet?

47. dr pepper said,

April 17, 2009 @ 3:22 am

3 days, 12 hours, 24 minutes.

48. Nigel Greenwood said,

April 17, 2009 @ 6:12 am

@ sleepnothavingness: I had no inkling that one decikilogram approximated the weight of an apple.

It was more the apple/newton relationship that I wanted to bring out.

@ aap: @ sleepnothavingness: … decikilogram

In case you weren’t joking, this would normally called a hectogram. Or a metric ounce.

This unit is routinely used when buying food in Italy, where it is called un etto.

@ Noetica: I don’t know whether the reason you propose for adopting l/100km … Mind you, I’m all in favour of our eminently sane metric system.

Pity about that impossible abbreviation for the litre, though.

49. Sili said,

April 17, 2009 @ 3:04 pm

Impossible?

Haven’t you ever heard of Claude Émile Jean-Baptiste? “L” is a perfectly cromulent abbrevation for Litre.

50. Noetica said,

April 17, 2009 @ 8:01 pm

Both lower-case (standard or specially styled) and upper-case are used for the abbreviation of litre. The situation is complex, and there are good arguments on both sides. See excellent coverage at International System of Units on Wikipedia, as well as the humorous article pointed to above. (Reminiscent of the gardenia.)

51. merri said,

May 14, 2009 @ 7:18 am

Ever wondered what the MKS unit for fuel consumption is ?
ISTM it should be square meters. (volume divided by length)
A fairly big car burns about 10 ^ -8 m³ of fuel.

There is even an interpretation to that : if the consumed fuel was put in a tube along the car’s route, this would be the section of the tube. And it gives some flesh to the concept of ‘instantaneous fuel consumption’ without having to give lessons on calculus.