# The British have a genius for making things complicated

Starting with their weird units for length (inches, feet, yards, furlongs), mass (ounces, pounds, stones, etc.), volume (fluid ounces, gallons), and their now mercifully extinct old currency (pounds, shillings, pence, three-pence, half-pence, farthing), where the conversions never seem to involve a simple factor of ten, the British seem to have, whenever given the chance, opted for a more complicated system when simple ones based on the factor ten stared them in the face. Note that the single word ‘pound’ could refer to a force, a mass, or money. Unfortunately they imposed these systems on their colonies and we had to suffer through them as students. Most countries have taken the sensible step of switching to the metric system, with the US being a notable holdout.

The same complicated thinking holds true for the way their country is structured and named, and this video tries to explain the complicated mess.

Donald Trump seems to find difficult even the major distinctions between England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom. I can’t imagine what he’d do if told about all the other complications mentioned in the video. His brain might explode.

1. Curt Sampson says

I find your opening statement rather unfair.

First, the idea that base 10 is inherently superior to all other bases not only reflects a bias related to the number of fingers you happen to have, but is wrong. If you were going to re-do the whole world, either base 12 (giving even divisions by 3 as well as 2), or a base that’s a multiple of two to a natural number (perhaps 8 or 16) are both clearly superior from a numerical point of view. If you really, really need even divisions by 10 (though I can’t imagine why you’d want that except for historical compatibility) base 60 is also an option and one already widely used in a sense (subdivision of hours and minutes, the degree system for angles, etc.).

British scientists, philosophers and engineers have been at the forefront of the development of metrication – in 1668 John Wilkins first proposed a coherent system of units of measure, in 1861 a committee of the British Association for Advancement of Science (BAAS), including William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), James Clerk Maxwell and Joule among its members, defined various electrical units in terms of metric rather than imperial units, and in the 1870s Johnson, Matthey & Co manufactured the international prototype metre and kilogram.

Third, the traditional U.K. measurement systems, whether it be feet and inches or pounds and pence, are substantially the same in spirit and form as the systems developed and used throughout the rest of the world, and reflect in the same way the history of such units worldwide over thousands of years. They are no worse than everybody else who was using their own similar systems before switching to metric.

Fourth, the U.K. has been, with a few exceptions, fully metricated since the mid-1990s, a process started in the mid-1960s and substantially completed by 1980.

Fifth, as a physicist you’ll be well aware that even scientists at their best have plenty of weird units based not on universal scientific principles but on measurements of human bodies and their local environment, just as the traditional units in the U.K (or those of any other country in the world). The second is an archaism based around the duration of an Earth rotation, and redefining it as 9 192 631 770 cycles of a cesium atomic clock is just an absurd hack. Time measurement and calendrics in general is still a such godawful nightmare that not only will nobody quickly understand me when I say I spent two kiloseconds writing this response, but you can’t even tell how many seconds are between two absolute times without reference to a table telling you at what times leap seconds were introduced. And don’t even get me started on a seven-day week. (Seven! That what you would come up with if you deliberately picked the most awkward possible small number!)

2. cartomancer says

This is entirely to be expected when you have an actual history, and base your understanding and nomenclature on it. Though adherence to a precise distinction between geographical, political and historical terms is really a later 20th Century phenomenon. During the high Imperial period of the 18th and 19th Centuries it was quite common to use “England” to refer to the entirety of the British Isles, or even the entirety of the British Empire. The Oxford History of England, commissioned in the 1930s, still used the term very expansively, to refer to the whole of the British Isles, when it was first published.

Likewise, a lot of our historical measurement systems were derived from times when the standards were set by everyday objects or the body parts of rulers. Most of the Imperial system takes its rationale from Roman standards of measure. A foot, for instance, was one pace. A mile is a thousand paces (milia pasuum). An inch (from the Latin uncia, meaning a twelfth part) is one-twelfth of a foot. An ounce (also from uncia) is a twelfth part of a pound (from pondere, Latin for weighing, the pound being equivalent to the Roman libra, a standardised weight scale used on official balances). The pound in terms of money was originally a pound in weight of gold. Incidentally we used L, s and d for pounds shillings and pence because they were our equivalents to the Roman libra, solidus and denarius (and formal documents, such as charters, exchequer rolls, writs and purchase ledgers, were all written in Latin until well after the English currency system became established). Which is why the pound sterling symbol -- £ -- is a stylised letter L.

We rather like having the history present in the thing. To the English it seems clinical and anodyne and cultureless to just have something as bland (and, crucially, as French) as the metric system. Though we do understand that it has some utility in terms of scientific measurement, which is why we still cultivate both systems. Most British people tend to have a very ad-hoc, situational familiarity with measurement systems, using different ones in different contexts. Not always the same ones as other people. For instance, I tend to measure the weight of people in stones, but small animals in kilogrammes. People’s heights are always feet and inches. I weigh out cooking ingredients in pounds and ounces but non-edible solids are weighed in grammes and kilogrammes. I tend to measure all liquids in litres and millilitres (until you get to petrol for cars, which is done by the gallon). Distances over terrain are measured in miles, but within a room (say, laying a carpet) are done in metres. For smallish distances on a tabletop it would be feet and inches, though under an inch one uses millimetres for precision.

3. says

My mother grew up with the metric system in Germany but when she emigrated to Australia did all her dressmaking using feet and inches because of the locally available patterns being English. After metrification in 1974 she doggedly stuck to the imperial system of feet and inches due to a quarter inch being the smallest unit she needed and it being very visible on her measuring tape.

Metric is useful for scientists who work across a range of disciplines but crafts people have no such need. If your work only uses two orders of magnitude, metric offers little advantage.

4. Curt Sampson says

Oh, and right, the actual topic of the post. (Sorry, I get easily distracted and enraged by metrics.)

I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made that, when looking at the constituent parts of a sovereign state, the U.S. is more confusing than the U.K.

The U.S., a ‘sovereign state’ in international law, is subdivided into ‘states,’ which are a completely different thing from a state in international law. Though the U.S. constitution and federal law apply equally in all states, each state has its own slightly different state legal system as well. But wait, within the states there are also <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_reservation"certain areas that have to some degree separate sovereignty and their own set of laws yet again, overriding even some federal laws.

Well, that’s not all the subdivisions. You have non-state bits such as a federal district and unincorporated territories such as Puerto Rico. In the latter not all constitutional provisions apply.

How many Americans can name all their unincorporated territories, or even know how many there are? How many don’t even know that they exist at all? (Haven’t we recently seen examples of Americans who thought that Puerto Ricans were not American?)

5. Curt Sampson says

Metric is useful for scientists who work across a range of disciplines but crafts people have no such need. If your work only uses two orders of magnitude, metric offers little advantage.

It offers the advantage of consistency. The size of a “pint” can vary by 20%, which is a quite large enough to spoil a recipe.

6. grasshopper says

The US penchant for expressing large weights by the number of pounds has always struck me as weird. Is it because big numbers are more impressive? I find it easier to grok that something weighs 20 tons than it weighs 44800 pounds. My thoughts speak volumes, so I will take my fluid ounce and fl.ounce off.

7. says

The size of a “pint” can vary by 20%, which is a quite large enough to spoil a recipe.

Only if you try to use recipe books published in heathen countries instead of the ones you inherited from your Grandmama.

8. says

The US penchant for expressing large weights by the number of pounds has always struck me as weird.

And now retailers of electronic goods quote current output in so many thousands of milliamps, or media report of quantities given in billions of litres (or even Olympic swimming pools!) instead of the correct SI units of Gigalitres. Innumeracy is a big problem in the current age.

9. fentex says

…the idea that base 10 is inherently superior to all other bases not only reflects a bias related to the number of fingers you happen to have, but is wrong. If you were going to re-do the whole world…

But we’re not going to re-do the world, and that isn’t Mano’s point. He is not arguing what base is best, but that it’s silly not to use the base of your numbering system in counting and dividing measures.

And he’s right.

10. Ketil Tveiten says

I’ll just remind everyone that all this complicated stuff is really just the last vestiges of the feudal era. Most other countries ‘cleaned up’ their legal affairs at some time in the last two centuries, but the British, deciding they were done with all that in 1660 (or 1705) decided to fix in place all sorts of legal clunkery and not pass any simplifying reforms along with everyone else in the 19th century. Much like how the London Underground is an abysmally cramped system today, while being the first in the world, all the stupid political nonsense the British do today connects to how the English, with their Civil War and all that, were the first to get serious (as in, killing-people-dead-serious) about limiting the power of the Crown.

11. fentex says

By the way he made a mistake in that video, the Monarch of the UK is NOT THE MONARCH of places like New Zealand!

The Monarchy of New Zealand (like Australia and others) is ANOTHER MONARCHY altogether that just happens to be held by the same person.

And may diverge in the future -- fifteen odd years there was a brief period in which it was likely it would as New Zealand (and I don’t know who else) changed our law so that the sex of the monarchs oldest child had no effect on succession (used to be boys got first shot regardless of their relative age to sisters) -- which meant, until the UK changed it’s law (very shortly afterwards) the monarchies would have diverged when a first born girl did not succeed.

12. Curt Sampson says

@fentex: Yes, but why is it ok to keep a silly base system (fundamental unit derived from the number of digits on our hands), or a silly time system (fundamental unit derived from the rotation of the earth), and their equally awkward divisions (2 and 5 instead of 2, 3, and 4; 60, 24, 7, etc.) but yet not ok to keep other similar things?

When scientists are still using measures such as astronomical units and parsecs, it’s a bit hypocritical of them to complain about people not switching from other units derived from the human environment that have been in use much longer, are much more widely used, and thus have far higher switching costs.

(To be clear, I’m all on the side of moving to newer and better systems of metrics; I’m just not seeing why some uses of old systems should be thought of as more valid than other uses of different old systems.)

13. jrkrideau says

I see that the video missed the fact that the Queen is Head of the Commonwealth though not always Head of State for member countries and discounts the (reserved) power of the monarchy in countries where she is Head of State.

Still for a fast 5-6 minute video it was not bad.

I have never found the difference between the various components of the British Isles confusing but then I live in a country where even explaining how the time zones plus daylight savings time can reduce a Western European to total bewilderment. I once listened to a Radio Netherlands program where a Canadian “explained” Canadian time zones. I was in pain I laughed so much.

Or as the CBC says, “At 10:00, 10:30 in Newfoundland.”

14. jrkrideau says

@ 11 fentex
So true. In the current gig economy even the Queen has more than one job.

Years ago, at the height of the Troubles, I was working overseas with an interesting mix of Brits, Irish and Americans. I was the lone Canadian.

At some point I made a remark about “Betty” and our technical director (retired British Army senior warrant officer) got in my face and growled, “That’s my Queen”. To which I replied, “She’s mine too”. 🙂

15. Holms says

#13
There is not exactly much power to discount.

Also, In Australia, thanks to two of our time zones being close together (only differeing by 30 minutes) and thanks to the southern states having daylight savings time (a change of an hour) and the northern states not, Queensland and South Australia swap the time zone lead for a portion of every year.

16. jrkrideau says

@ 15 Holms
There is not exactly much power to discount.

Probably depends on what country in which she is monarch. But I’d check your legal references. I am not sure but I think the GG of Australia still can fire the PM. (For non-Commonwealth readers this is an extremely severe simplification of the actual legal, constitutional, and political issues, to put it mildly.)

In Canada, the Crown (the Governor General in practice) has a surprising amount of power but using a lot of it could trigger a constitutional crisis. We don’t have a single document called the “Constitution”. We have a sort of dog’s breakfast of documents and customs. As far as I know we, like the UK, do not even have any document or legislation that establishes the post of Prime Minister of Canada.

On the other hand, we had the situation a few years ago when the GG had the clear right to allow the PM’s request to prorogue Parliament or to ask another member of the House of Commons to form a government. No one questioned this. Well except, possibly, the 3 anti-monarchists in Toronto?

17. jrkrideau says

@ 15 Holms
I forgot. I have had one or two military types point out that their oath was to the Queen not the PM.

18. Holms says

#16
The GG can indeed do that, but then again the GG is a person chosen by the Australian Prime Minister from the Australian population without input from the monarch, and the position’s powers are enumerated by Australian law. The GG does not act with consultation to the monarchy, and has not for many years. You are being somewhat misled by the historical origin of the position: it is the modern descendant from the colonial days when the monarchy did indeed have a representative who could veto locally passed law, but those days are long gone.

19. fentex says

…why is it ok to keep a silly base system (fundamental unit derived from the number of digits on our hands), or a silly time system (fundamental unit derived from the rotation of the earth), and their equally awkward divisions (2 and 5 instead of 2, 3, and 4; 60, 24, 7, etc.) but yet not ok to keep other similar things?

I think 12 (or 8 or 16 given our technology) may make more sense, but it’s still an entirely different topic.

At some point I made a remark about “Betty” and our technical director (retired British Army senior warrant officer) got in my face and growled, “That’s my Queen”. To which I replied, “She’s mine too”.

Here (New Zealand) it’s Liz.

20. alanuk says

Mano probably has much to complain about, not just the eccentricities of the British. Like me, he would have learned the Imperial System of units (the name says it all really) no doubt in its two forms: one where the pound is the unit of mass and the poundal is the unit of force, and the other where the pound is the unit of force and the slug is the unit of mass. Then he had to learn the metric system and, as a physicist, the particular centimeter-gram-second version with its two forms of electrical units: electrostatic and electromagnetic; neither of these match the ‘practical’ units used for everyday electrical measurements. Then he would have had to learn MKS units where the electrical units are the same as the ‘practical’ units. If his studies included astronomy, apart from the light year, there is the parsec, the astronomical unit, and the janskey (10^−26 watts per square metre per hertz).
In the United States he may have thought that ‘British’ units would be the same as those he learned in Ceylon (but he may have thought that Americans spoke English). Some ‘American Customary Units’ have the same names as ‘British Imperial Units’ but represent quantities that differ by varying amounts: the US gallon is quite different from the Imperial gallon (as are all units of liquid volume) whereas the US inch was only slightly different from the British inch before both were standardized as 25.4 mm; the US has two units called a ‘yard’, one is a subdivision of a ‘Football Field’ and the other is used by surveyors.
What makes US units so confusing is the fact that whereas Europeans use SI units. Americans use a less well defined system that they label ‘metric’ where some would use the kilogram as a unit of mass and others would insist that it is a unit of force. They tend to use whatever unit happens to be a handy size when describing something; a netbook might have a 9 inch screen and weigh a kilogram.
Time is another confusing thing; ‘now’ is the same everywhere (to the degree that we can define simultaneous) but the US has a complex system of time zones and daylight saving with no perceptible reference point (like the Greenwich Meridian). Even the timestamps on this blog gives the time ‘here’ with no indication where ‘here’ is.

21. KG says

Most other countries ‘cleaned up’ their legal affairs at some time in the last two centuries, but the British, deciding they were done with all that in 1660 (or 1705) decided to fix in place all sorts of legal clunkery and not pass any simplifying reforms along with everyone else in the 19th century. -- Ketil Tveiten@10

Not sure what the reference to 1705 is. But in any case, as far as Europe is concerned at least, the key events that made the difference were the Napoleonic Wars. Large parts of Europe had their legal and related systems compulsorily overhauled by Napoleon, and kept the changes after he was gone. Britain -- and Russia -- never fell under his influence, so kept their old measurement systems.

22. mailliw says

My sister, though already a British citizen, had to swear allegiance to the queen of England to become a Canadian citizen.

23. Mano Singham says

alanuk @#20!

You described my experience exactly!

And thanks for reminding me about the dear old ‘poundal’! I had mercifully forgotten about it. Whatever happened to it? Did it just fade away or is it still to be found in some remote parts of the world, like soldiers from old wars still living in caves?

24. jrkrideau says

@ 22 mailliw
No, she had to swear allegiance to the Queen of Canada who just happens to have another job.

25. says

And if you really want to confuse people, ask them where “Lesser Britain” is.

26. blf says

Whilst living and working in England, my lab / office was moved from a convenient location near the city centre to the desolate outskirts. As compensation, I was offered so-and-so much for the difference in commuting. There were two issues here: (1) I could no longer commute by walking; and (2) When I put in my claim, I used (deliberately) Kilometres. This was rejected — use normal units was the “reason”. So I resubmitted my claim using Roman Miles, Nautical Miles, and so on, but pointedly avoided the obviously expected Statute Miles. From memory, I did get compensation for the correct distance. (And then frequently bicycled to work.)

27. Rob Grigjanis says

Oops, pardon the extra ‘a’.

28. mnb0 says

Exactly here the UK is not unique. The Netherlands are about as complicated.

The state (that’s member of the UN for instance) is named Kingdom of the Netherlands.
It consists of four constituent countries: the Netherlands, Curacao, Aruba and Sint Maarten.
Three more Caribbean islands, Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius are special municipalities of the constituent country called the Netherlands. They are not part of any of the 12 Dutch provinces.
Geographically speaking the six islands constitute the Dutch Antilles.
Two of those provinces are called Northern Holland and Southern Holland.
Since more than two centuries you won’t find any region or governmental body called Holland anymore in the Netherlands. However Holland is part of Lancashire, England.

Also Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau have the second most complicated border in the world, only topped by India and Bangladesh with nested en/exclaves.

Nl is the Dutch side, B is the Belgian side.

29. says

I have to deal with explaining the metric system to my beginning engineering students every fall. When I was a kid, I was told that we (the US) would convert “soon”. Ha!

In some ways, what I find worse is the complete lack of knowledge in the general populace concerning scientific or engineering notation. I can’t stand all of that “-illions” stuff, which is not globally standardized anyway. I believe that lack of familiarity makes the metric system that much more confusing for the average American because they can’t tie something like 10^-3 to “milli” or 10^6 to “Mega”.

30. says

And I should add that, as an electrical engineer, I am somewhat partial to hex (base 16). It divides down to binary with such ease. I also like to show my students how to count to over 1000 using your fingers (in binary of course, finger up = 1, finger down = 0- I start with 0 and work up, the value 4 usually gets a laugh).

31. Curt Sampson says

@jimf #30: Perhaps part of the reason is that scientific or engineering notation doesn’t seem to be a widely accepted way to display numbers on calculators and the like. My HP calculators and emulators spend more time in engineering notation (4 digits after the decimal point, exponent is always a multiple of three) than any other because I find it the most convenient for most any numbers I’m using, be they sizes and weights of things or amounts of currency.

@fentex #19: I’ve always called the queen of Canada “Liz” as well; I’ve never heard “Betty.” That said, I’m willing to give some priority to British feelings on what to call her; after all, they actually own all a whole monarchy system and we just outsource.

…why is it ok to keep a silly base system (fundamental unit derived from the number of digits on our hands), or a silly time system (fundamental unit derived from the rotation of the earth), and their equally awkward divisions (2 and 5 instead of 2, 3, and 4; 60, 24, 7, etc.) but yet not ok to keep other similar things?

I think 12 (or 8 or 16 given our technology) may make more sense, but it’s still an entirely different topic.

You wrote originally, “[Mano] is not arguing what base is best, but that it’s silly not to use the base of your numbering system in counting and dividing measures,” I think that’s a fair interpretation of his point, and a fair point for discussion. Here are my thoughts on the matter.

1. Arguing that you should always use 10 as the subdivision and multiple of things is implicitly arguing what base is best. The decision to divide a shilling into 12 pence or 10 is effectively a decision about what base to use for those particular calculations, even if expressed in another base. I may say my computer has 65536 bytes of memory rather than 0x10000 bytes of memory, or casually call 1024 bytes of memory a ‘kilobyte,’ but expressing these numbers in base 10 does not change the fact that I’m still really working within a base 2 system. So no, it’s not an entirely different topic.

2. It’s clear that for some things using a non-10 base is both appropriate and acceptable. Beyond the computer example above, the 360-degree circle and, even moreso, the 60-second minute/60-minute hour are both widely accepted and rarely questioned, even amongst scientists and engineers. The appropriateness of the 360 degree circle is obvious: it’s very handy to be able to easily divide arcs into exact thirds. How appropriate 60 seconds and 60 minutes as standard measures isn’t obvious (at least not to me), but unlike arc measurements (where radians are also commonly used in some—though not all!—fields), but that’s accepted without question in every field, as far as I can tell. And of course there are simple examples such as selling muffins in boxes of 12, which will more evenly divide amongst a wider range of groups than boxes of 10.

In short, there are plenty of cases where “a simple factor of ten” is not the simplest factor to use. This “tenism” is something we should be conscious of, not automatically assume is the way the universe works.

Also, the metric system has several other less obvious assumptions built into it as well. For example, outside of { -2, -1, 1, 2} we have prefixes only for exponents that are multiples of three. (Three. Why three? Sheesh.) If you want to see this get awkward, consider if you wanted to metricate time using seconds as the base unit. A kilosecond (just under 17 minutes), is a reasonably convenient unit, as is next one up, the megasecond (11½ days or so). Yet between them there’s a huge gap, as well as another gap just above. This is difficult to fill strictly within the modern metric system, which not only dropped the myria- (10⁴) but disallowed combining prefixes (‘decakilo’—ok, perhaps forbidding them isn’t such a bad idea). I suppose I’d be fine with written and spoken ‘e-notation’ (‘it happened ee-five seconds ago’, 1e5 seconds being a bit over a standard 86400 second day, and yes many years ago I did memorize the number of seconds in a day because I really do use this fairly frequently at work).

The Wikipedia page on metric time discusses some other potential solutions such as multiplying by combined derived units whose bases cancel out; a kilojoule per centiwatt is 10⁵ for example. I’m sure we can all agree on the practicality (or lack thereof) of that.

The name “metric system” itself, as if it’s the One True System of Metrication (measuring things) betrays a certain privilege grab, actually; I’ve found myself several times on this thread wanting to talk about different metric systems (using ‘metric’ in the sense of how you measure things) and found it difficult because one particular metric system has taken over the word. (This is being worked on, however; the official name of the system is now SI and perhaps we can convince people to use it. Though I don’t hold out too much hope if even a pedant such as myself habitually calls it “metric.”)

Damn, I think I just got ‘woke’* on privilege in SI and metrication. 🙂

_____
* I’m concerned that my use of the word may be inappropriate appropriation; I’m happy to hear suggestions for better ways to phrase this.

32. mailliw says

@24 jrkrideau

As a native born Britain my sister has never sworn allegiance to the Queen of England.

She must now remain loyal to the Queen of Canada, but is perfectly at liberty to be disloyal to the Queen of England (and the Queen of Wales, Scotland, Australia and so on).

33. Holms says

#33
Yes. Because those truly are different offices for different governments. They just happen to be occupied by the same person.

34. Imperical measures drive me up the wall when cooking and baking, because you cannot upscale or downscale easily.
In the metric system, when a recipe is for a 24 cm tin, but I have a 28 cm tin, I can easily calculate how much more cake batter I need and then calculate the amounts of flour and butter and all that shit (eggs are the only thing that complicate matters). With cups, half cups, sticks of butter, etc and inches, it drives me up the wall.
The metric system is nicely consistent
To quote someone else on this:

“In metric, one milliliter of water occupies one cubic centimeter, weighs one gram, and requires one calorie1 of energy to heat up by one degree centigrade—which is 1 percent of the difference between its freezing point and its boiling point. An amount of hydrogen weighing the same amount has exactly one mole of atoms in it. Whereas in the American system, the answer to ‘How much energy does it take to boil a room-temperature gallon of water?’ is ‘Go fuck yourself,’ because you can’t directly relate any of those quantities.”

Wild Thing by Josh Bazell.

35. EigenSprocketUK says

The video omits any mention of Todmorden, a small Pennine town which you will find at the boundary between Yorkshire and Lancashire (two counties of England). If you visit and make the mistake of asking whether you are in Lancashire or Yorkshire, you will be told, in no uncertain terms, that you are in neither: you are in Todmorden.

36. mailliw says

@36 EigenSprocketUK

Apparently it is sadly an urban legend (http://www.berwickfriends.org.uk/history/berwicks-war-with-russia/), but there is the story that the town of Berwick upon Tweed is still at war with Russia.

As it was unclear if Berwick was in Scotland or England at the start of the Crimean War, the declaration of war was made between Russia and England, Scotland and Berwick upon Tweed. The peace treaty neglected to mention Berwick. In the 1960s the mayor of Berwick wrote a letter to Nikita Kruschev explaining that the Russians had no reason to fear an attack from Berwick.

The town football team Berwick Rangers plays in the Scottish league, even though Berwick upon Tweed is now in England.

37. KG says

C.G.P. Grey got at least one thing wrong: the Anglican Church is only the state (“established”) Church in England. Wales and Northern Ireland have no established church. In Scotland, the Church of Scotland is the established church. It’s Presbyterian -- i.e., has no bishops, unlike the Church of England -- so the Queen has to like bishops when south of the border, and dislike them when north of the border :-p

More than one person has made another common error here. Among Elizabeth Windsor’s many titles, that of “Queen of England” is conspicuous by its absence. The Kingdoms of England (which in this usage includes Wales) and Scotland were merged to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain by the Act of Union in 1707, and no-one has born the title Quuen (or King) of England since. The UK of GB subsequently merged with the Kingdom of Ireland in 1801 to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1922 when most of Ireland broke away (initially as the Irish Free State, which was a “Dominion” and still recognised the monarchy and had some constraints on its independence, then from 1937 as a republic).

Whatever people tell you, the power of the Crown remains a real constraint on democracy both in the UK and at least some of the “Commonwealth Realm”. The latter was obvious in Australia when the Governor-General ejected Gough Whitlam from power in 1975. In the UK, the current government plans to make extensive use of Crown powers in the wake of Brexit, to allow it to change laws inherited from the EU without legislation.

38. KG says

I’ve always called the queen of Canada “Liz” as well; I’ve never heard “Betty.” -- Curt Sampson@32

It does tend to be “Betty” here in the UK, as in: “I’m just popping round to see Betty and Phil”. However, rumour has it that among the family she’s “Brenda”, while Prince Charles is “Brian”.

39. Rob Grigjanis says

Unfortunately they imposed these systems on their colonies and we had to suffer through them as students.

Ah, quit yer whinin’. It’s a good exercise in converting between different systems of units. As a physicist, you should appreciate that 😉

40. Dunc says

The Kingdoms of England (which in this usage includes Wales) and Scotland were merged to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain by the Act of Union in 1707, and no-one has born the title Quuen (or King) of England since.

And then, of course, there’s the additional complication that the royal dynasties of England and Scotland were previously united in the Union of the Crowns of 1603, when James VI of Scotland also became James I of England…

41. Holms says

#38

Whatever people tell you, the power of the Crown remains a real constraint on democracy both in the UK and at least some of the “Commonwealth Realm”. The latter was obvious in Australia when the Governor-General ejected Gough Whitlam from power in 1975.

Ahem, nope, this had nothing to do with the Queen. It was an entirely Australian shambles of backbiting, spiteful politics.

42. KG says

Holms@42,

I didn’t say it had anything to do with the Queen. I said the power of the Crown, a legal entity distinct from the person of the monarch, and which has the function of allowing the elected representatives of the people to be bypassed when that’s convenient to the ruling class. Play the video again if you don’t understand the difference.

43. Holms says

It also has nothing to do with the Crown. It was entirely partisan politics between the rival parties.

44. KG says

Holms@44,
Not so according to Wikipedia. Kerr dismissed Whitlam using the GG’s reserve powers, which are pretty much the same powers (except that they are formally defined) as the “royal prerogative” in the UK. Kerr, an unelected person representing the Crown in Australia, thus decided the outcome of the political crisis -- and appears to have deceived Whitlam about his intentions in the run-up to the latter’s dismissal.

45. Holms says

Sneaky, rebutting my comment a week after the post left front page… I only stumbled across this while looking for something else entirely.

Anyway, you are forgetting that the Monarch of Australia (the position rather than the person) is a seperate office to Monarch of the United Kingdom, with no powers granted to it beyond the purely ceremonial. The Governor General of Australia, likewise, is a position within the Australian government, with powers granted to it by Australian law, though at least these ones aren’t purely ceremonial… just mostly. Which means the GG used powers granted to him by the Australian body of law, out of spite for ousting his preferred party with which he was highly sympathetic, and NOT at the behest of Liz II in her capacity as Queen of Au or Queen of UK.

The monarchy was not involved, spiteful backroom politics was. FFS I am an Australian that has actually looked into this -- mostly to rebut smug Brits who think the crisis is proof that Au is still a vassal of the UK -- and you are a guy that read a wiki page for the sake of an internet argument.

46. KG says

Holms,

It’s amusing that you think I deliberately waited until the post was off the front page, but in fact I simply tend to leave pages open, and if I happen to click on them again days or even weeks later -- often when I need to reduce the number of browser tabs, and frequently in that case after I’ve forgotten what they were about -- I respond to a response to me, if I have something more to say. I still think you’ve misunderstood; the point is not whether Liz Windsor made the decision, but that the Governor-General’s powers as an unelected and unaccountable person with executive authority are a historical carry-over of Crown powers from the UK, which Australia -- a fully independent country, as I’m well aware -- would be better without.