full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Matt Anticole: Why the metric system matters

Unscramble the Blue Letters

What does the French Revolution have to do with the time NASA accidentally casehrd a $200 million oeitbrr into the surface of Mars? Actually, everything. That crash happened due to an error in converting between two measurement smsetys, U.S. customary units and their S.I, or metric, equivalence. So what's the connection to the French Revolution? Let's explain. For the majority of recorded human history, units like the weight of a grain or the length of a hand weren't exact and varied from place to place. And different regions didn't just use varying measurements. They had completely different number systems as well. By the late Middle Ages, the Hindu-Arabic decimal system mostly replaced Roman nelramus and fnrioatcs in Europe, but efforts by srcoahls like John Wilkins to promote sdrtanad decimal-based measures were less successful. With a quarter million different utnis in France alone, any widespread change would require massive disruption. And in 1789, that disruption came. The leaders of the French Revolution didn't just overthrow the monarchy. They sguoht to cmelltoepy transform society according to the rational principles of the Enlightenment. When the new government took power, the Academy of Sciences convened to reform the system of measurements. Old standards based on arbitrary authority or local traditions were reeplcad with mathematical and nraautl relationships. For example, the meetr, from the Greek word for measure, was defined as 1/10,000,000 between the Equator and North Pole. And the new metric system was, in the words of the Marquis de Condorcet, "For all people, for all time." Standardizing measurements had political advantages for the Revolutionaries as well. nlobes could no longer manipulate local units to extract more rent from commoners, while the government could collect taxes more efnclitefiy. And sinwctihg to a new riulaepbcn caldeanr with ten-day weeks ruedecd church pwoer by eliminating Sundays. Adoption of this new system wasn't easy. In fact, it was a bit of a mess. At first, people used new units alongside old ones, and the Republican Calendar was eventually abandoned. When Napoléon Bonaparte took power, he allowed small businesses to use ttdraoianil measurements redefined in metric terms. But the miterc system remained standard for formal use, and it spread across the continent, along with France's borders. While Napoléon's empire lasted eight years, its legacy endured far longer. Some European countries reverted to old measurements upon independence. Others realized the value of standardization in an age of international trade. After Portugal and the Netherlands switched to metric voluntarily, other nations followed, with colonial empires spreading the sesytm around the world. As France's main rival, Britain had resisted revolutionary idaes and retained its traditional units. But over the next two centuries, the British erpmie slowly transitioned, first approving the metric system as an optional alternative before gradually making it offical. However, this switch came too late for thirteen former colonies that had already gianed independence. The United States of America scutk with the English units of its colonial past and tdoay ranimes one of only three countries which haven't flluy embraced the metric system. Despite constant initiatives for mireoittacn, many ariemacns consider units like feet and pounds more intuitive. And ironically, some regard the once rovalotnuirey metric system as a soybml of global cioomnftry. Nevertheless, the metric system is almost universally used in science and medicine, and it continues to evolve according to its original pnreciipls. For a long time, standard units were actually difneed by craeflluy maintained pchaisyl prototypes. But thanks to improving thcloegnoy and precision, these objects with lmeitid access and unreliable longevity are now being replaced with standards based on universal constants, like the speed of light. Consistent measurements are such an itaenrgl part of our daily lives that it's hard to appreciate what a major accomplishment for hntauimy they've been. And just as it arose from a political revolution, the metric system remains crucial for the scientific revolutions to come.

Open Cloze

What does the French Revolution have to do with the time NASA accidentally _______ a $200 million _______ into the surface of Mars? Actually, everything. That crash happened due to an error in converting between two measurement _______, U.S. customary units and their S.I, or metric, equivalence. So what's the connection to the French Revolution? Let's explain. For the majority of recorded human history, units like the weight of a grain or the length of a hand weren't exact and varied from place to place. And different regions didn't just use varying measurements. They had completely different number systems as well. By the late Middle Ages, the Hindu-Arabic decimal system mostly replaced Roman ________ and _________ in Europe, but efforts by ________ like John Wilkins to promote ________ decimal-based measures were less successful. With a quarter million different _____ in France alone, any widespread change would require massive disruption. And in 1789, that disruption came. The leaders of the French Revolution didn't just overthrow the monarchy. They ______ to __________ transform society according to the rational principles of the Enlightenment. When the new government took power, the Academy of Sciences convened to reform the system of measurements. Old standards based on arbitrary authority or local traditions were ________ with mathematical and _______ relationships. For example, the _____, from the Greek word for measure, was defined as 1/10,000,000 between the Equator and North Pole. And the new metric system was, in the words of the Marquis de Condorcet, "For all people, for all time." Standardizing measurements had political advantages for the Revolutionaries as well. ______ could no longer manipulate local units to extract more rent from commoners, while the government could collect taxes more ___________. And _________ to a new __________ ________ with ten-day weeks _______ church _____ by eliminating Sundays. Adoption of this new system wasn't easy. In fact, it was a bit of a mess. At first, people used new units alongside old ones, and the Republican Calendar was eventually abandoned. When Napoléon Bonaparte took power, he allowed small businesses to use ___________ measurements redefined in metric terms. But the ______ system remained standard for formal use, and it spread across the continent, along with France's borders. While Napoléon's empire lasted eight years, its legacy endured far longer. Some European countries reverted to old measurements upon independence. Others realized the value of standardization in an age of international trade. After Portugal and the Netherlands switched to metric voluntarily, other nations followed, with colonial empires spreading the ______ around the world. As France's main rival, Britain had resisted revolutionary _____ and retained its traditional units. But over the next two centuries, the British ______ slowly transitioned, first approving the metric system as an optional alternative before gradually making it offical. However, this switch came too late for thirteen former colonies that had already ______ independence. The United States of America _____ with the English units of its colonial past and _____ _______ one of only three countries which haven't _____ embraced the metric system. Despite constant initiatives for ___________, many _________ consider units like feet and pounds more intuitive. And ironically, some regard the once _____________ metric system as a ______ of global __________. Nevertheless, the metric system is almost universally used in science and medicine, and it continues to evolve according to its original __________. For a long time, standard units were actually _______ by _________ maintained ________ prototypes. But thanks to improving __________ and precision, these objects with _______ access and unreliable longevity are now being replaced with standards based on universal constants, like the speed of light. Consistent measurements are such an ________ part of our daily lives that it's hard to appreciate what a major accomplishment for ________ they've been. And just as it arose from a political revolution, the metric system remains crucial for the scientific revolutions to come.

Solution

  1. technology
  2. humanity
  3. gained
  4. empire
  5. republican
  6. today
  7. americans
  8. meter
  9. reduced
  10. natural
  11. metric
  12. stuck
  13. integral
  14. system
  15. standard
  16. ideas
  17. limited
  18. principles
  19. power
  20. physical
  21. revolutionary
  22. carefully
  23. scholars
  24. switching
  25. nobles
  26. conformity
  27. systems
  28. orbiter
  29. crashed
  30. defined
  31. efficiently
  32. remains
  33. numerals
  34. fractions
  35. calendar
  36. sought
  37. units
  38. traditional
  39. symbol
  40. fully
  41. metrication
  42. replaced
  43. completely

Original Text

What does the French Revolution have to do with the time NASA accidentally crashed a $200 million orbiter into the surface of Mars? Actually, everything. That crash happened due to an error in converting between two measurement systems, U.S. customary units and their S.I, or metric, equivalence. So what's the connection to the French Revolution? Let's explain. For the majority of recorded human history, units like the weight of a grain or the length of a hand weren't exact and varied from place to place. And different regions didn't just use varying measurements. They had completely different number systems as well. By the late Middle Ages, the Hindu-Arabic decimal system mostly replaced Roman numerals and fractions in Europe, but efforts by scholars like John Wilkins to promote standard decimal-based measures were less successful. With a quarter million different units in France alone, any widespread change would require massive disruption. And in 1789, that disruption came. The leaders of the French Revolution didn't just overthrow the monarchy. They sought to completely transform society according to the rational principles of the Enlightenment. When the new government took power, the Academy of Sciences convened to reform the system of measurements. Old standards based on arbitrary authority or local traditions were replaced with mathematical and natural relationships. For example, the meter, from the Greek word for measure, was defined as 1/10,000,000 between the Equator and North Pole. And the new metric system was, in the words of the Marquis de Condorcet, "For all people, for all time." Standardizing measurements had political advantages for the Revolutionaries as well. Nobles could no longer manipulate local units to extract more rent from commoners, while the government could collect taxes more efficiently. And switching to a new Republican Calendar with ten-day weeks reduced church power by eliminating Sundays. Adoption of this new system wasn't easy. In fact, it was a bit of a mess. At first, people used new units alongside old ones, and the Republican Calendar was eventually abandoned. When Napoléon Bonaparte took power, he allowed small businesses to use traditional measurements redefined in metric terms. But the metric system remained standard for formal use, and it spread across the continent, along with France's borders. While Napoléon's empire lasted eight years, its legacy endured far longer. Some European countries reverted to old measurements upon independence. Others realized the value of standardization in an age of international trade. After Portugal and the Netherlands switched to metric voluntarily, other nations followed, with colonial empires spreading the system around the world. As France's main rival, Britain had resisted revolutionary ideas and retained its traditional units. But over the next two centuries, the British Empire slowly transitioned, first approving the metric system as an optional alternative before gradually making it offical. However, this switch came too late for thirteen former colonies that had already gained independence. The United States of America stuck with the English units of its colonial past and today remains one of only three countries which haven't fully embraced the metric system. Despite constant initiatives for metrication, many Americans consider units like feet and pounds more intuitive. And ironically, some regard the once revolutionary metric system as a symbol of global conformity. Nevertheless, the metric system is almost universally used in science and medicine, and it continues to evolve according to its original principles. For a long time, standard units were actually defined by carefully maintained physical prototypes. But thanks to improving technology and precision, these objects with limited access and unreliable longevity are now being replaced with standards based on universal constants, like the speed of light. Consistent measurements are such an integral part of our daily lives that it's hard to appreciate what a major accomplishment for humanity they've been. And just as it arose from a political revolution, the metric system remains crucial for the scientific revolutions to come.

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
metric system 7
french revolution 2
standards based 2
republican calendar 2

Important Words

  1. abandoned
  2. academy
  3. access
  4. accidentally
  5. accomplishment
  6. adoption
  7. advantages
  8. age
  9. ages
  10. allowed
  11. alternative
  12. america
  13. americans
  14. approving
  15. arbitrary
  16. arose
  17. authority
  18. based
  19. bit
  20. bonaparte
  21. borders
  22. britain
  23. british
  24. businesses
  25. calendar
  26. carefully
  27. centuries
  28. change
  29. church
  30. collect
  31. colonial
  32. colonies
  33. commoners
  34. completely
  35. condorcet
  36. conformity
  37. connection
  38. consistent
  39. constant
  40. constants
  41. continent
  42. continues
  43. convened
  44. converting
  45. countries
  46. crash
  47. crashed
  48. crucial
  49. customary
  50. daily
  51. de
  52. decimal
  53. defined
  54. disruption
  55. due
  56. easy
  57. efficiently
  58. efforts
  59. eliminating
  60. embraced
  61. empire
  62. empires
  63. endured
  64. english
  65. enlightenment
  66. equator
  67. equivalence
  68. error
  69. europe
  70. european
  71. eventually
  72. evolve
  73. exact
  74. explain
  75. extract
  76. fact
  77. feet
  78. formal
  79. fractions
  80. france
  81. french
  82. fully
  83. gained
  84. global
  85. government
  86. gradually
  87. grain
  88. greek
  89. hand
  90. happened
  91. hard
  92. history
  93. human
  94. humanity
  95. ideas
  96. improving
  97. independence
  98. initiatives
  99. integral
  100. international
  101. intuitive
  102. ironically
  103. john
  104. lasted
  105. late
  106. leaders
  107. legacy
  108. length
  109. light
  110. limited
  111. lives
  112. local
  113. long
  114. longer
  115. longevity
  116. main
  117. maintained
  118. major
  119. majority
  120. making
  121. manipulate
  122. marquis
  123. mars
  124. massive
  125. mathematical
  126. measure
  127. measurement
  128. measurements
  129. measures
  130. medicine
  131. mess
  132. meter
  133. metric
  134. metrication
  135. middle
  136. million
  137. monarchy
  138. napoléon
  139. nasa
  140. nations
  141. natural
  142. netherlands
  143. nobles
  144. north
  145. number
  146. numerals
  147. objects
  148. offical
  149. optional
  150. orbiter
  151. original
  152. overthrow
  153. part
  154. people
  155. physical
  156. place
  157. pole
  158. political
  159. portugal
  160. pounds
  161. power
  162. precision
  163. principles
  164. promote
  165. prototypes
  166. quarter
  167. rational
  168. realized
  169. recorded
  170. redefined
  171. reduced
  172. reform
  173. regard
  174. regions
  175. relationships
  176. remained
  177. remains
  178. rent
  179. replaced
  180. republican
  181. require
  182. resisted
  183. retained
  184. reverted
  185. revolution
  186. revolutionaries
  187. revolutionary
  188. revolutions
  189. rival
  190. roman
  191. scholars
  192. science
  193. sciences
  194. scientific
  195. slowly
  196. small
  197. society
  198. sought
  199. speed
  200. spread
  201. spreading
  202. standard
  203. standardization
  204. standardizing
  205. standards
  206. states
  207. stuck
  208. successful
  209. sundays
  210. surface
  211. switch
  212. switched
  213. switching
  214. symbol
  215. system
  216. systems
  217. taxes
  218. technology
  219. terms
  220. thirteen
  221. time
  222. today
  223. trade
  224. traditional
  225. traditions
  226. transform
  227. transitioned
  228. united
  229. units
  230. universal
  231. universally
  232. unreliable
  233. varied
  234. varying
  235. voluntarily
  236. weeks
  237. weight
  238. widespread
  239. wilkins
  240. word
  241. words
  242. world
  243. years