Skip to main content
Humanities Libertexts

6.6: §128. The Metric System

  • Page ID
  • §128. The Metric System

    The METRIC SYSTEM was developed in France during the decade that followed the French Revolution (1790-1799); the terminology was all drawn from Greek or Latin. The SYSTÈME INTERNATIONAL (SI) is a 20th century refinement and extension of metric, formally approved in 1960; its terminology goes beyond Greek and Latin. An excellent summary can be found in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

    Some original metric measures:
    length METRE (< G μετρον): originally defined as “one ten-millionth part of a meridional quadrant of the earth” (the quadrant of the earth’s circumference running from the North Pole through Paris to the equator)
    area ARE (< L area): 10 m x 10 m (= 100 m2)
    HECTARE (100 ares): 100 m x 100 m (= 10,000 m2)
    mass GRAM (< Late L gramma, “small weight” < G γραμμα): 1 cc of distilled water at maximum density (4°C), weighed in vacuo
    volume LITRE (< ML litra < G λιτρα, “a measure”): a cube 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm (1,000 cc); thus l litre of pure water has a mass of 1 kg
    STERE (< G στερεος): 1 cubic metre, or a cube 100 cm x 100 cm; thus 1 stere is equivalent to 1 kilolitre.

    Prefixes in SI Measurement:

    Multiple Prefix Symbol Etymology
    trillion 1012 tera- T G τερας “monster”
    billion 109 giga- G G γιγας “giant”
    million 106 mega- M G μεγας “big”
    thousand 103 kilo- k G χιλιοι
    hundred 102 hecto- h G ἑκατον
    ten 10 deka- da G δεκα
    Submultiple Prefix Symbol Etymology
    tenth 10-1 deci- d L decem
    hundredth 10-2 centi- c L centum
    thousandth 10-3 milli- m L mille
    millionth 10-6 micro- μ G μικρος small
    billionth 10-9 nano- n G νανος dwarf
    trillionth 10-12 pico- p It. piccolo (?) small
    quadrillionth 10-15 femto- f Dan./Norw. femten (15)
    quintillionth 10-18 atto- a Dan./Norw. atten (18)
    • Was this article helpful?