Olli’s Saturday School – I didn’t go to Burger King

The most important thing first:

A Whopper(TM) is the same thing in Burger Kings in Germany. And if it wasn’t for Pulp Fiction, most Germans in the 90s probably wouldn’t have known that quarterpounder is a word for a certain-size hamburger.

The German word for pound is Pfund, which actually is an obsolete German unit to measure the mass of things.
Today we use Pfund as a colloquial term for “half a kilogram” especially when talking about food like butter, flour, sugar etc.
Half a kilogram, for those entirely foreign to the metric system and SI-units, is about 1.1lbs
However using the word Pfund in any official businss is a bad idea since it is not officially defined anywhere and may actually not be used in commercial or official transactions.

There used to be a customs’ pound and a pharmaceutical pound into the mid 19th century.
Historically, a Pfund had been used for anything between 373,24grams1 and 560grams in Bavaria and Austria. That’s about 0.4lbs in difference.

That said, Pfund also used to be a unit to measure area near Vienna and a grouping of either 8 or 240 in a number of German cities.

Back in the times there used to be hollow weights of 25 pounds that you could add pieces of lead to adjust for regional differences.

Don’t get me started on pints or gallons.

Instead, let’s go to inches and feet!

The English word inch comes from the Latin uncia, meaning a twelth part of something.
Makes sense, since it’s the 12th of a foot, right?
Before the metric system inches and feet were used in Germany as well, although we also used Ellen. The Elle is the ulna which is kinda practical, because you could easily measure lengths of rope or fabric with that. Also your forearm from elbow to wrist is the same lenght as your foot.2

The German word for inch is Zoll. That word derives from an old German word for a piece of cut wood that was used to measure lenght.
Even today we use something colloquially called a Zollstock = inch-stick. People occasionally frown upon the term, because it’s not actually a stick, and a lot of them don’t have markings for inches on them.
The official term for it is Gliedermaßstab which could be translated to link-ruler.
Yup. It’s a folding rule.

Back to the inches. The French word for inch is pouce wich translates to thumb. Makes sense, right? Because thumb might be about an inch long?

And here you are, wondering why we went to SI-units that have definitions, are easily converted and generally make sense.

Maybe we should redefine some things and follow the idea of Randall Munroe, redefining a foot as a light-nano-second3.

By the way, there is one thing we actually do use inches for: Measuring the size of LCD screens.
But since sometimes a 24″ screen is actually 23.6 and everybody got confused, some European law was made that we have to give a centimeter value as well. Which we’d abandoned for TVs after flatscreens became the common thing.
So we went from cm to inches for TVs, while inches had always been used for computer screens. And now we have to give a cm value for computer screens even though noone actually uses it when looking for screens.

Footnotes
  1. Troy-Pound in England []
  2. cue everyone throwing out discs while trying to verify []
  3. ~11.8 inches []