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Number Crunching

Ian McMaster ist Chefredakteur von Business Spotlight
Wenn Sie dachten, die englische Sprache sei simpel, dann kennen Sie die Maßeinheiten noch nicht. Wo man Benzin, Bier und Milch mal in Gallons, mal in Litern, mal in Pints verkauft, da kommen selbst Muttersprachler ins Schleudern. Gut, dass Ian McMaster damals auf seine Cornflakes-Schachtel geguckt hat ...
"A litre of water's a pint and three quarters."
There are some sentences one just never forgets. This one may not be great poetry, but it has stuck with me for 25 years. I read it as a teenager on the back of a packet of breakfast cereal. It was part of a campaign to prepare Britain for the metric system of weights and measures.

Actually, one litre is 1.76 pints on the British "imperial" system of measurements. And eight pints make up one British gallon, the traditional unit for petrol. So a British gallon is about four and a half litres (4.546 to be precise). Note the use of the "decimal point" for parts of numbers where German uses a comma: 1.76 is "one point seven six". In fact, petrol (like milk) is now sold in litres in Britain, making such calculation unnecessary. Beer, on the other hand, continues to be sold in the traditional pints and half pints

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Britain has also gone metric on weights. Grams and kilograms have largely taken over from the imperial system of ounces, pounds and stones, in which a pound is made up of 16 ounces, and 14 pounds make up a stone. Note that a British pound is not quite the same as a German Pfund: instead it is 0.454 kilograms. This is where the cereal packet helped again: "2.2 pounds of jam are one kilogram"

The US, meanwhile, still uses pounds rather than kilograms. Liquid measurements are also non-metric: petrol (or, rather, "gas") is sold in gallons, and milk is sold in gallon, half-gallon, quart (quarter gallon) or, rarely, pint containers. Most drinks are sold as fluid ounces (fl. oz.); there are 16 fl.oz. to a pint. And to make matters even more confusing, an American gallon is less than a British one (3.785 litres instead of 4.546). Both Britain and the US still use the imperial system for measuring distances. A mile is roughly 1.6 kilometres (US: kilometers). Other common imperial measures of distance are inches, feet and yards. One inch is 2.54 centimetres; twelve inches make up a foot (30.48 centimetres); and three feet make up a yard (0.915 metres). A mile is 1.760 yards

Weights and measures are not the only problem with numbers. The most confusing number is probably billion, which is one thousand million (1,000,000,000) and corresponds to the German Milliarde. (Billion in German is trillion in English: 1,000,000,000,000). Note the use of commas in these numbers.

It is sometimes claimed that the British billion is different to the American one and is the same as the German Billion. This usage is no longer correct. Don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise!

There is a shorter way of describing such large numbers. A million can also be written as 106 (ten to the sixth); a billion is 109 (ten to the ninth) and trillion is 1012 (ten to the twelfth). Coming back down to earth, 100 is 102 (ten squared), and 1,000 is 103 (ten cubed)

But what exactly does "ten squared" mean? It is simply ten multiplied by ten. Another way of saying this is "10 times 10", normally written "10 x 10". Alternatively, we can say that ten is the "square root" of 100, meaning the number which, when multiplied by itself, gives 100.

The opposite of multiplying numbers (multiplication) is to divide them (division). For example: "100 divided by 10 is 10". The other two common mathematical operations are addition (10 plus 10 is 20) and subtraction (20 minus 10 is 10)

Parts of numbers can be described either decimally or as fractions. So, for example, one divided by two is either "point five" or "a/one half". Other common fractions are "a/one third" (one divided by three), and "a/one quarter" (one divided by four). The rest of the fractions are described according to the following system: two divided by five is "two fifths"; three divided by eight is "three eighths", seven divided by 16 is "seven sixteenths" and so on

Another area where numbers can lead to confusion is on the phone. When giving your number, remember to read each numeral (Ziffer) separately. For example: 484742 is "four, eight, four, seven, four, two" and never "forty eight, forty seven, forty two". Double numbers, such as 0044, can be spoken as "double oh, double four" or "oh, oh, four, four". For the numeral 0, you can say either "oh" or "zero"

Finally, when talking about time, British people often say "half seven" for 7.30 and so on. This should not be confused with the German "halb sieben" (6.30). Otherwise you will turn up an hour early for your meeting.
Dieser Artikel ist erschienen am 17.02.2003