Think Metric

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Metric Poetry

Common words for SI

It's been said that metric is good for accuracy but imperial is better for poetry. 

You don't have to be a poet to see that's clearly an indictment of metric units being rather cumbersome when spoken.  Nobody ever says, "You missed by a kilometer" or "We're making progress centimeter by centimeter".  Official metric units might sound graceful in say French, but they certainly don't in English. 

Colloquialism is essential for full metrication.  It's time to shed some syllables and beautify these clumsy metric tongue twisters. 


Table of Metric Common Words

mil | cem | met | kay | mig | gram | kilo | ton | leat | meg
mmmillimetermil "I was a mil away from death."
cmcentimetercem "We're making progress cem by cem."
"The President mustn't budge a cem."
m meter met "Visibility is down to a few mets."
kmkilometer kay or klick"Give someone a cem and they'll take a kay."
"A journey of a thousand kays begins with a single step."
"Good grief, you missed by a country kay!"
"Go the extra kay."
"Only mets away but kays apart."
mgmilligram mig "A raindrop weighs just 4 migs."
g gram gram "A gram of prevention is worth a kilo of cure."
kgkilogram kilo or key"Coke is the 500 kilo gorilla in the soft drink market."
"A gram of help is better than a kilo of preaching."
"Sugar Ray Robinson is the greatest kilo-for-kilo boxer of all time."
Mgmegagram ton "That's gonna land on you like a ton of bricks."
mlmillilitermil or cc"20 raindrops make a mil."
"A mil is the volume of one cubic cem (1 cm3)."
"A cc is the volume of one cubic cem (1 cm3)."
L liter leat "A cube 10 cems on edge is one leat."
"A mil of honey will catch more flies than a leat of vinegar."
"I love milk - I drink leats of the stuff."
MLmegaliter meg "A cube 10 mets on edge is one meg."
"An Olympic-size swimming pool is about 2.5 megs."


  1. These shortened common words are for casual spoken usage and make sense when written for song lyrics, novels, and screenplays.  Regular text should still use correct metric units, like "5 km" and "20 ml". 
  2. The word "mil" is overloaded.  Since a "mil" can be either a millimeter or a milliliter, the meaning needs to be determined from context.  A better word for millimeter would be "mim", but that ship has already sailed.  No one is ever going to say that a GLOCK 19 (G19 9×19mm) is a 9 mim. 
  3. Depending on context, kays can refer to kilometers as in "It's a short hike of only 3 kays" or to km/h as in "There's a 40 kay speed limit near the school".
  4. It's best to stay away from the lesser known in-between unit terms, like hectometer, centiliter, or decagram, for the same reason you don't use archaic words that fell out of use a century ago.  For example, it would be unnatural to say "3 centiliters" instead of "30 cc" or "30 ml".  Note that some unit terms that are generally obscure may in fact be commonly used in specific geographic regions, such as Germans saying "deka" to mean 10 g. 
  5. Avoid the Latin gibberish of the extreme prefixes except in scientific domains.  For example, write "90,000 km" instead of "90 Mm".  Or even use exponents, such as "3 × 1021 m" instead of "3 Zm".  A zettameter is Greek to everyone (except the Greeks).  Seriously, exactly ZERO normal people are going to memorize even a quarter of this prefix gibberish:
    quetta (Q) 1030, ronna (R) 1027, yotta (Y) 1024, zetta (Z) 1021, exa (E) 1018, peta (P) 1015, tera (T) 1012, giga (G) 109, mega (M) 106, kilo (k) 103, hecto (h) 102, deka (d) 10-1, centi (c) 10-2, milli (m) 10-3, micro (ฮผ) 10-6, nano (n) 10-9, pico (p) 10-12, femto (f) 10-15, atto (a) 10-18, zepto (z) 10-21, yocto (y) 10-24, ronto (r) 10-27, and quecto (q) 10-30
  6. Variety is the spice of life.  In some regions people may prefer "klick" over "kay" for kilometer.  Some may prefer "key" over "kilo" for kilogram.  Local language variations are totally fine. 

Kays of Inspiration

"Your kayage may vary." U.S. EPA after metrication
"It's not the years, honey, it's the kayage." Correct canonical version of Indiana Jones
"Knowledge without kayage doesn't mean anything to me." Henry Rollins if he had been born in Australia
"Take your dream and start breaking in down into kaystones." A Pragmatic Person
"My path has not been determined.  I shall have more experiences and pass many more kaystones." Agnetha Fรคltskog in the future
"Life isn't a matter of kaystones, but of moments." Modern-day clone of Rose Kennedy
"Remember to celebrate kaystones as you prepare for the road ahead." Even more visionary Nelson Mandela

Klicks are also inspiring



Trying to rhyme and rhythm with "centimeter" would paralyze even the greatest poet.  On the other hand, "cem" pairs up nicely with a variety of other words, like gem, stem, them, item, hem, and mayhem. 

You may not be a poet of metric, but you know these easy common words are indeed electric.

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