Why you shouldn’t use the ‘F’ word

Some people use the F-word with consideration for how offensive its use may be to there people.

Some people use the F-word without consideration for how offensive its use may be to other people.

As a parent, I obviously watch my language around my children. And I promise you that they did not learn to use the ‘F-word’ from either myself or my wife.

But we can’t control their whole lives. And at school or on the internet they encounter all kinds of bad language. And being children, they love to use shocking words to shock.

And so before we knew it the children were routinely referring to temperatures in ‘degrees Fahren***t‘. They hardly knew what the word meant, but it was shocking nonetheless.

How could our children behave this way? we asked. Where had we gone wrong?

And initially of course, we blamed ourselves. Had we been too strict? But we have come to terms with it now, and we think it is ‘just a phase’.

We had some long difficult ‘conversations’ with the children where we explained the importance of using the correct words to describe ‘difficult’ ideas about which they may feel embarrassed.

And we are past it now – but I am writing this because some people use this word all the time. Its use was common in earlier times and indeed, as a child I often heard people using the word without any embarrassment at all! And I blush to think I even used it myself.

Even now some older people think its just ‘political correctness‘ to describe temperatures in degrees Celsius or kelvin. But its not.

To use ‘Fahren***t‘ in the modern world is not just an idiosyncrasy: it is an insult to other people – and yes America, I am talking about you.

The US National Measurement Institute (NIST) is the biggest and best in the world, but I guess they feel a little embarrassed about the US’s idiosyncratic insistence on continuing to use – of all things – ‘Imperial’ measurement units! If the United Kingdom can slowly wean itself of these units then so can you ‘revolutionaries’!

And the reason it matters is that at the heart of the scientific endeavour is the process of measurement. And the International System of Units – the SI – is the cumulative achievement of humanity in being clear about precisely what we mean when we express a value of a physical quantity in measurement units.

Expressing temperatures in degrees Celsius or kelvin is simply being polite.

It means acknowledging that people outside one’s own cultural whirlpool may be interested in what we have measured.

It means acknowledging that we belong to one world and that the SI is our shared achievement and inheritance: a language of science through which all humanity can communicate clearly.

So, now you know: stop using f***ing Fahren***t!

UPDATE: Here is a friendly post for those of you who have never had the chance to learn how to use degrees Celsius.






5 Responses to “Why you shouldn’t use the ‘F’ word”

  1. Charlie Says:

    Dear Michael. Have to disagree with you on this one…From a non-scientist’s view – to insist on only one means of expressing an experience is very dodgy. I still do not intuitively have a sense of what “todays temperature in degrees C or K” really feels like. In degrees F I do have that sense of what it feels like. I am not alone in this, Hopefully in the not too distant future, people such as myself, who have adapted poorly to correct scientific terminology will fade & die away leaving a better & more ordered world. In the meantime I would plead for a little more tolerance and understanding. Love Charlie

  2. placebosarah Says:

    Reblogged this on My Degree of Freedom and commented:
    This really made me chuckle as I gradually come to terms with “sunny days with a high in the mid-eighties”.

  3. Dominic Says:

    I blame the BBC! Weather reports still use it. I always, as a child, used to understand centigrade for when it was cold (sorry – the ‘C’word!) & the ‘F’ word for when it got hot, but I got over that when I learnt about Celsius.

  4. edaviesmeuk Says:

    Charlie, you only get the sense of what temperatures are like by starting with some reference points:


    -40 °C: Spit goes “clink”!

    Once you get the hang of a few, filling the gaps is easy. Personally I think of it, from a UK weather perspective as: less than 0 °C: very cold; 0 to 10 °C: chilly; 10 °C to 20 °C: mild; above 20 °C: warm to hot; above 30 °C: very hot.

  5. nplfellow Says:

    Good point. My favourite property is thermal conductivity, which in SI units is merely watts/metre/kelvin. Americans of the engineering bent have been known to use BTU.inch/hour/foot squared/degree Fahrenheit. It makes me dizzy to think about it.

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