How do you pronounce kilometer?

By Phil Plait | July 13, 2008 8:37 pm

When I was in Canada, it was really cool to see everyone using the metric system. But what made me a little nuts was how everyone pronounced the word kilometer. Is it kil-AW-meter or KILL-o-meter?

I make my case for the latter in the video below. If you disagree with me, then I can state quite objectively and maturely that you are wrong wrong wrong.

When I was giving my first talk in Canada I actually mentioned this, and got a lot of applause from right-thinking people. The others were strangely (ominously?) silent. Perhaps they were tuning up their kill-o-meters.

Note: in the video I use the spelling decameter. I have seen it as dekameter as well, and in some dictionaries it says decameter is the old way to spell it. Well, maybe. I still like it, so I used it. If I can rant about pronunciation, I can rant about spelling, too.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Piece of mind, Science, Video Blog

Comments (269)

  1. So long as the beers still come in pints, eh.

  2. duffytvs


    I’m a Canadian that pronounces kilometre the wrong way, and I accept that you’re right and I’ll continue to say it incorrectly and blame it on my accent. I would like for you to accept, however, that, as an American, you spell kilometre incorrectly, and any other word ending in metre.

  3. Dave

    I pronounce it incorrectly too, just like how most people mispronounce Wikipedia. It’s our American accent! Remember, we wouldn’t have our words if we didn’t mess up other people’s.

  4. duffytvs: no deal, unless you start to pronounce it meet-ruh.

  5. Phil, of *course* you’re right! An instrument for measuring tiny things is a micrometer, while a millionth of a meter is a micrometer. This is conclusive proof of your correctness. Keep up the good work!

  6. John

    When I was younger I always opted to pronounce it “kill-awm-eter” just because I thought it sounded cooler.

    It has stuck with me ever since and now I can’t go back. :(

  7. Sean

    Take off you hoser.

  8. Adam

    That’s funny because I find it doesn’t come up that often in conversation for me (here in canada). I will often say “clicks” instead of kilometres anyway. When I’m talking about a distance (usually related to driving) the unit of measurement is time to get there, not kilometres.

    And how can you say it’s hard to wrap your head around temperature in the metric system? It’s just as good as measuring distance! 0 degrees is the freezing point and 100 degrees is the boiling point. Simple! 😀

  9. Jon


    I believe the -re at the end is the British spelling, and even within the United States this kind of usage varies. Having grown up adding the -re when spelling theat(re), and thinking that Americans used the -er, I was surprised to discover that some places in the US also use the -re spelling, though I was correct in assuming that thea(er) is much more common.

  10. wb4

    Dialect fascist!

  11. Dean

    Ah Phil, although I agree with your pronunciation, your spelling has much to be desired. The origin of the metric system is French, and thus the proper spelling is ‘kilometre’ not ‘kilometer’.

    Sigh…Americans. :-)

  12. Dean

    Figures…I should read the comments fully before opening my mouth. :-)

  13. zachb

    I think i actually say it both ways…

  14. Nick Tacik

    I’m a Canadian that pronounces it correctly, and I have made this argument with others, almost exactly the same way (including the kill-o-meter measures kills thing). I’m glad to see you feel the same way.

    Hey Phil, where in Canada were you?

  15. Fedaykin

    Sorry Phil. I love your site and your writing but you bug me in that video….

  16. Robbie

    When you’re making these faces and repeating yourself over and over into your camera and microphone do you make sure you’re alone in the house ahead of time?

  17. Fizzle


    You missed the greatest thing Canada brought us, Sydney Newman, creator of Doctor Who!

  18. duffytvs

    Dean’s right on this one…

    The best story I’ve ever heard on the metric system comes from my father (he’s a joker, so, it’s quite possibly apocryphal).

    In his teens, my father (who is originally from England, hence my own knowledge of the correct spelling of metre — not to mention that it is spelled metric, not meteric, but I digress…) worked at a service centre on the highway in a small town in Canada south of Detroit. Anyway, an American woman stopped at the service centre to get gas on her way back to the U.S. She pulled up to the pump my father was working at. “How far is it to the border?” she asked my father.
    My dad knew it was approximately fifty kilometres (pronounce it how you like), as there was a nearby sign on the highway that said, “Border to United States – 50 km”. Being a nice guy, he converted it to miles for her, knowing she was American (and not a scientist). So, he says, “It’s about 30 miles.”
    The woman responded, “But the sign I just saw said that it’s 50 Canadian miles to the border.”
    Evidently, she wasn’t aware that Canada uses the metric system, or that Canada doesn’t start with a ‘K’.

  19. duffytvs

    I just talked to my dad… he said it really happened. I pressed. He still said it really happened. Yikes.

  20. Sir Eccles

    Clearly this is evidence for “Intelligent Pronunciation”.

  21. Dagger

    Actually Phil, we got past the whole pronunciation thing way back when we first adopted the system. Now it’s just a Klick. How many klicks is it to…. I drove 100 klicks into….With my new car I get about 650 klicks per tank… etc, and we stole that from Europe.

    Makes it easier for everyone.

    Glad you had a good time up here. Now get busy selling the system to your government :)

  22. To be perfectly honest, you scared me a little Phil.

    But that’s okay. :)

  23. Adam
    It’s not so much that it’s hard to understand, it’s that it’s hard to get used to it when we’re used to Fahrenheit. For instance, it would be difficult for many people in the US (though, I should note, not impossible if we would just do it) to get used to 37 degrees being human body temperature and not, say, an average winter temperature in Maryland. And the conversion doesn’t make it easy to get used to, either. I mean, sure, we can get used to 212 Fahrenheit being 100 Celsius, but 50 Celsius isn’t 106 Fahrenheit. That gets confusing when you’re trying to switch over.

    It’s a little easier for us to get used to distances, though, because the conversion is easy: a meter is about three feet, so it’s easy math for us to get a decent approximation. Three meters? Between nine and ten feet. A hundred feet? Thirty meters or so. A kilometer is about two-thirds of a mile; only slightly harder math. Ten kilometers, about six miles. Fifty miles, roughly seventy-five kilometers (and yes, I know my conversions are off, but I’m just doing estimations for a rough sense of scale.) It’s things like this that help which the change-over, much like (actually, exactly like) translating a foreign language in your head before, eventually, learning to think in that language in the first place.

  24. Bart

    Let’s see if I can post this without getting mistaken for a link farmer:

    Personally I think you’re all wrong. Yeah, the accent goes on the first syllable, but as anyone who’s watched a cop show (sorry, “police drama”) since Miami Vice ought to know, it’s “KEEL-oh”. Trying to buy anything in “KILL-ohs” or “kill-UHs” would be laughable at best.


  25. Wow, a whole bunch more comments appeared as I was posting. Now I feel all tangential! Which of course brings up the question of what coordinate system we’re using….

  26. CG

    The only problem is kill-o-meter sounds like a device to measure levels of killing.

    On second though, that’s not a bad thing…

  27. My chemistry teacher said that since we don’t say kill-AW-grum, we shouldn’t say kill-AW-mitur.

    Nevertheless, I still flip back and forth promiscuously.

    Please don’t take that last sentence out of context.

  28. themadlolscientist

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the temperature conversion thing, BA. Not to imply that it gets REALLY cold in Canada, but -40 is -40 in either system. That’s all you need to know.

  29. Tom

    Phil, There’s a quick & dirty way to convert from F to C. Take the temp, subtract 30, & divide by 2.

    100 F
    -subtract 30, =70
    -Divide by 2, =35 C
    Actual temp = 37.8 C

    This method works for the range of temperatures that humans can survive comfortably in, The error doesn’t exceed 5 degrees C until you get below
    -40F or above 160F

    On a related note, what did you think of the RASC GA?

  30. Dagger

    What your speaking of MarlowePI is the crossover generation. Those of us who went to bed one night thinking 77 fahrenheit was a nice day and waking up the next day to it being 25 celsius. What the heck??? Is that warm or cold? The confusion was rampant, until we realized it was the same. But it took a while.

    Funny think is, when I discuss temperatures with my parents, I have to use fahrenheit, but with my kids I have to use celsius. We’re the generation stuck in the middle. You guys better hurry up and convert or there won’t be any of us up here to help you do the converstions 😉

    (and yes, the metric conversion did take place over one night for those who were curious)

  31. Tom

    Sorry, that range should read ‘Below -40F or above 140F’

  32. Jonathan Lubin: I pronounce one-millionth of a meter a “micron”.

  33. Vernon Balbert

    I say kill-AW-meter. Why? Well, do you say SPEED-oh-meter or sped-AW-meter? I rest my case.

    Language is not science. It follows its own rules and the “o” I feel makes a difference in how things are pronounced. There is no “o” in millimeter, centimeter, decimeter, decameter, etc.

  34. I should say that I have no issues with temperatures in metric, it’s just that for some reason that’s tougher on me than distance. I’ve found the same is true for my Canadian and Australian friends; they have a hard time converting to Fahrenheit!

  35. Robbie

    Duffytvs: “(who is originally from England, hence my own knowledge of the correct spelling of metre — not to mention that it is spelled metric, not meteric, but I digress…)”

    Were metric spelled meteric we in the US would pronounce it met-er-ic or mete-er-ic, which would probably depend on whether the person says kil-om-et-er or kilo-meter.

  36. Snoopy31415


    The exact way is
    -substract 32 = 68
    -multiply by 5
    -divide by 9
    Actual temp = 37,8 C

    But i guess it is easier to multiply by 1/2 then 5/9

  37. Michelle

    I say kill-oh-meter… And I’m canadian. But I’m french canadian so I don’t count.

  38. Snoopy31415
    Yeah, but Tom was specifically showing us a quick ‘n’ dirty way to do it that people could easily do in their heads in just a couple of seconds, the few seconds that make a big difference between “Well that’s easy enough” and “Screw that, I’ma stick with my hogsheads.”

  39. El Zilcho

    As a lifelong Canadian and expert on Canadian dialects Kill-aw-meter is the way to say it.
    However, here in Saskatchewan we pronounce kilometer as “mile.” We mean kilometer, but mile is easier. Same with gallonliter.

  40. Bah. The metric system is for people who can’t divide by 12. Or 36. Or 16. Or 5280.

  41. eric

    bah humbug. It’s not “KILL-o-metre” .. the proper inflection is “KEEL-o-metre”, only pronounced short not drawn out 😉

    Myself, I was always impressed with the base unit of measurement in Space Battleship Yamamoto – “the enemy ship is 17.6 megametres off the port bow capn!”

  42. I was about to argue with you, until I remembered I’m bilingual. I apparently have a double standard, in one language I say Kil-aw-meter and in the other I go for the Keel-o-meter. Damn you diglossia!

  43. Merlin

    The trouble is that now you notice it, people pronouncing the wrong way (KILLOM – ITTER) instead of the right way (KILLO – MEETER) will bug you more and more until you shout at the TV whenever some reporter starts to say the word.
    I know, I’m there already. My morning isn’t complete until I’ve yelled at the weatherman for saying we’re going to have 90 Killom-itter per hour winds. And then I feel pompous and stupid at the same time…

  44. Paul Clapham

    Well, since we’re talking about Canada, I got my Canadian Oxford Dictionary down off the shelf. (Yes, it’s the dead-tree version.) It says “kilometre (also kilometer)” for spelling and for pronunciation it gives ki-LO-me-tre followed by KI-lo-me-tre.

    So for all you people who were trying to claim that one of the two spellings was correct, or that one of the two pronunciations was correct, you’re wrong.

    However, all the other “kilo-” words are uniformly accented on the first syllable. So ki-LO-me-tre is an exception. This proves exactly the opposite of what Vernon Balbert proved with his example, namely exactly nothing. And I haven’t watched Phil’s video (Reading is so much faster, don’t make me watch videos) but sorry, Phil, analogies aren’t worth much when exceptions can exist. And clearly “kilometre” is exceptional.

  45. Dave

    Next up, how do you pronounce “multimeter”?

  46. Dictionaries mean nothing in a debate like this, they describe common usage, but do not dictate or denote that usage as correct.

    Besides, the dictionary is Canadian, Ewww! 😛

  47. Chip

    I first became aware of kilometers on a (very good) old TV show from the 60’s called “Combat” which starred Vic Marrow and Rick Jason as US soldiers in WWII. There were episodes where the G.I.s would be moving past road signs or markers that read how many “Kil” away a town was. Or the French resistance fighter would say: “Que Sairjant, we trapped theam aboat five Keelometeuers down zat road.” (The French said “KILometers” but I bet some actors also said “kilOMeters”)
    Occasionally a US character would say something like “that was about 10 kilometers over that hill” or something like that. This is not inaccurate as Americans soldiers became more used to metric measurements while they were in Europe. They probably said “miles” too, I don’t remember every episode but the series got me to thinking about metrics as a kid.

  48. sandswipe

    I’m an american trying to use metric and I saw Kill-AW-mitur even when I’m away from Halo 3, but I swear I’m trying to change. 😛 I don’t even bother with metric temperature right now.

    You forgot one of the coolest things ever to come out of Canada: RUSH. I’d expect you to be a big fan of their lyrics at the least:
    You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice. / If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. / You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill; / I will choose a path that’s clear / I will choose freewill.

  49. Mena

    Being married to a Canadian for quite a long time now I have gotten to the point where I really don’t bother converting. I still have trouble with kilograms when shopping though if I need something that is for a recipe that doesn’t use metric. I can’t eyeball it like he can.
    Husband pronounces it “kil-o-meter”, also using the “kil-o-gram” example, thinking that I would pronounce that the same way that he does. No, the “o” is long, like it is in “progress”. ;^)
    Anyone want to try to tackle “About the house”?

  50. You say tomato, i say tomato.

  51. “In his teens, my father (who is originally from England”

    What amuses me is that the people of England have never really converted to the metric system, at least for distances. The road signs are even in mph. Of course drinks are still in pints.

  52. Tommy

    This due to the French influence. In French, kilo is pronounced ki-lo. Same thing for z, in Canada it’ s zed but in the us it’s zee. Guess what, the French also pronounce it zed :0

  53. Sorry, but it will still be “kil-AW-meter”. Why? Because it sounds better, that’s why.

    Same thing with the word ‘harass’. It is pronounced “ha-RASS” and not “harris”. Why? It sounds better.

    If it sounds better, it wins. ;P

  54. All of this is fine, but what about iambic pentameter?

  55. chimango

    kilómetro, hehe.
    but we agree un the decameter stuff

  56. Leigh

    well I’m from Seattle and I pronounce it like “kee-loh-meter”

    My way is the right way 😉

  57. I’m with Theropod…. what about bomb calorimeters?

  58. Geoff

    You’re technically right of course Phil but then you probably don’t have the say the word every day or in that particular context.

    Also you might have noticed people from Toronto say Trawna.

    Also it’s alu-MIN-ium not Aloominum but try telling Americans that too.

  59. RedNyte

    I’m still gonna say kill-o-meter jusr because 😉

  60. Wildride

    Despite it’s being incorrect kill-aw-meter just rolls off the tongue better, which is probably why the Americans started pronouncing it that way back in the 1830s. And it’s also why it made its way back into British english as well.

  61. AJWM

    I grew up in Canada and now live in the US. I pronounce it “kay” (it’s usually obvious from context if I’m talking about distance or a thousand of something else). But I’m used to Americans screwing up the pronunciation of words by accenting the wrong syllable. “Capillary”, for example.

    (Canadian prononunciaton of kilometre is a little faster (k’lOmit’r) than American (kEElohmeeter), the former has no long vowel sounds, the latter has three. Long vowel sounds take (slightly) longer to say than short vowels. Canadians save all those long vowels and stick them at the ends of sentences, eh?)

  62. I love this. It’s a totally ridiculous post with no real redeeming social value, and it has 60 comments in a couple of hours. :-)

  63. zeb

    Don’t forget about other units! We say KIL-o-gram and KIL-o-liter, not kil-aw-grum or kil-AW-litter…

  64. Geoff

    Oh I don’t know Phil. I thought it was enjoyable and rather pithy. It took me back to grade school where I learned all this stuff about prefixes.

    Now that I think of it, I normally say “clicks” (or is that “klicks”?) and save a few syllables.

  65. Actually, where I come from we say Kilo-*meh*-ter.

    And since Hebrew preceded English, we are bound to be right.

    Of course, the fact we stole that word from English is besides the point. We were speaking first, we have the right of speakage.

  66. Wildride

    When you cover it, how do you plan to pronounce “Makemake”?

  67. Adrian Lopez

    There’s no ther-moe-meeter, so why say kill-o-meeter?

    I say: Kil-aw-meter, like ther-maw-meter.

    English is weird. Blame the Great Vowel Shift.

  68. Matt

    I say “kil-AHH-mih-ter” when referring to the distance of a road or highway, but in any scientific contex I say “KIL-oh-mee-ter”.

  69. Yes, KILometer is the correct pronounciation of kilometer.

    However, in Canada, we use not the kilometer, but the kilometre (note the spelling difference). Therefore, kilAWmetre is the correct prounciation up here.

    It’s an arbitrary thing to point out, sure….but so is citing the various prefixes, centi, deci, deca, mili etc.


    So there.

  70. Glen

    In northern BC, I mostly hear KIL-uh-gram, but kil-AH-muh-ter. Or kel-AH-muh-ter, where that first ‘e’ should be a schwa (some omit the vowel entirely). I have never, ever heard someone say “klick.” Some people still use miles and avoid the whole issue.

    I’ll note also that it’s MEE-ter when it’s alone, but “muh-TER” (or “meh-TER”) when prefixed… the accents have to align, either on first and third tempos or on second and fourth.

    Many people around here say (and spell) it both ways. Almost always one will accent the first syllable if comparing distances: five hundred meters (ME-ters) versus one kilometer (KIL-o-ME-ter). How long is a marathon? It’s forty-two kilometres (kil-AH-muh-ters).

  71. PeteM

    I don’t care how you pronouce it as long as you spell it correctly!


  72. MaW

    There is no correct pronunciation.

    There is, however, a correct spelling, and that’s the one with the -re at the end. Anything else is surely insulting to the French as it fails to acknowledge their part in the development of a logical and consistent system of measurement.

  73. Coming from a country that elected a man that can’t pronounce nuclear do you really want to go there? I thought not. ;P

  74. @Geoff,

    If IUPAC says aloo-minum is an acceptable pronunciation, it’s good enough for me!

  75. Selbst

    Language is not a material object, but an abstract thought. The right pronunciation for a word will vary with time and location, the object or atribute to which it refers to remains constant. I pronounce it kil-Oh-meh-Trow, that´s because my native tongue is modern latin american spanish, I don´t talk like people from Spain, or Argentina, since I live in Mexico, just like you don´t speak like people from England, Australia or Canada.

    Your critique of their pronunciation is faulty, if most of the people of Canada pronounce it that way, then its correct for them and in no way does it alter the value of it.

  76. ecks

    I can see temperature being a problem. There’s a a small, familiar range of values, and the values are associated with a whole mess of consequences such as what you have to wear, what driving conditions will be like, how it interacts with windchill and humidity and so much more. I’m glad I grew up using metric, but I do regret that my home’s digital thermostat cannot be set with the same precision in (whole degrees) C as in F.

    Another unit that is hard to get used to is lbs for body weight. Ask most any English Canadian how much they weigh and even from the younger generation you’re likely to get an answer in lbs. There’s no good reason for this and it bugs me.

    Oh, and I say kilometer the wrong way, at least in driving context. I’m not proud of it but I think we do it because it rolls off the tongue easier. I’m with you though. There’s only one way to pronounce kilogram, kilobyte, kilopascal, kiloparsec, kilowatt, kilojoule, etc

  77. Randall

    I say both kil-AW-meter and kil-AW-gram. And honestly, I basically say cent-EH-meter and mil-EH-meter, too. So suck it.

  78. Randall

    OK, upon reflection, I’m actually saying CENT-eh-meter and MIL-eh-meter. My point is, I’m using a sound halfway between “lid” and “mesh,” not anywhere near “bee.”

  79. Both are wrong. It’s Killomitter. Oh, you must have been in Toronto. That explains it. You see, the rest of Canada doesn’t recognize Toronto, or, as some say Toronna, as being a part of Canada. It’s actually the Center of The Universe. At least we let them think that. :)

    Oh, and you really should have tried our beer! If you come to Vancouver, I’ll get you a case of Kokanee. It should be fun seeing someone that isn’t used to real beer getting blitzed on 2 bottles!

  80. Leigh, I’m from Squamish… try pronouncing that… near Vancouver, and you are wrong – it’s killomitter, or kill-o-mitter

  81. Oh, and the temp thing works the other way too. 20* Celsius – Farenheit: 20×2+30=70 F.

    Little Canadian Humour

    Forget Rednecks, here is what Jeff Foxworthy has to say about Canucks: If your local Dairy Queen is closed from September through May, you live in Canada.

    If someone in a Home Depot store offers you assistance and they don’t work there, you live in Canada.

    If you’ve worn shorts and a parka at the same time, you live in Canada.

    If you measure distance in hours, you live in Canada.

    If you know several people who have hit a deer more than once, you live in Canada. If you have switched from ‘heat’ to ‘A/C’ in the same day and back again, you live in Canada

    If you can drive 90 kms/hr through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard without flinching, you live in Canada.

    If you install security lights on your house and garage, but leave both unlocked, you live in Canada.

    If you carry jumpers in your car and your wife knows how to use them, you live in Canada.

    If you design your kid’s Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit, you live in Canada.

    If the speed limit on the highway is 80km — you’re going 90 and everybody is passing you, you live in Canada.

    If driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow, you live in Canada.

    If you know all 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, and road construction, you live in Canada.

    If you have more miles on your snow blower than your car, you live in Canada.

    If you find 2 degrees ‘a little chilly’, you live in Canada.

    If you actually understand these jokes, and forward them to all your friends & others, you definitely live (or have lived) in Canada.

    JUST GITTER DONE…Proud To Be Canadian..

  82. In Oz most of us say “kays”. And, interchangeably, killameeta and kill-OM-meta. Weirdly it can depend on if you use the word twice in a conversation.


  83. BJ Nemeth

    I happily accept either version from other people, but I stress the second syllable myself. For the record, I happen to be a photographer. That’s “pho-TOG-ra-pher,” not a “PHO-to-graph-er.” Hmmm … your theory breaks down a bit in that case.

    Also, I don’t know Latin, but isn’t “kilo” supposed to be pronounced “kee-low”? So by your logic, shouldn’t it be “kee-low-meter” and not “kill-o-meter”? Again, I could be wrong about the latin (or whatever the root origin of “kilo” is).

  84. So BA, diPLODicus or DIPloDOCus?

    Dave UK

  85. Tim G

    KILL-o-me-ter doesn’t roll of the tongue very well. Perhaps we should adopt the military slang version “click”.

    When we colonize Alpha Centauri we should adopt the metric system because that is what most of our scientific documents use. The exception would be the use of the Fahrenheit scale for weather forecasts.

    FYI: there are approximately ln(5) “clicks” to a mile.

    One very important thing: it’s kcals not calories!

  86. Ray Martin

    Good points, Phil, but it doesn’t matter how you pronounce it if you Americans can’t spell it right: kilometre.
    While I’m on the subject…
    flavour, honour, colour, aluminium and, well, nearly everything else in your dictionary 😀

    (Exits in that smug, supercilious fashion perfected by the British)

  87. David Vanderschel

    The BA makes a compelling argument for how it SHOULD be pronounced. However, the BA is not an authority on such issues. In fact, what dictionaries tend to document is common usage – and, from that point of view, the BA loses. I’ll repeat the MW reference Bart gave:

    There is actually a discussion there about the pronunciation issue. In fact, it mentions Phil’s reasoning explicitly. Nevertheless, when the majority of folks put the accent on the second syllable, you can’t say that they are all “wrong”. You just have to relax and go with the flow on this sort of issue. You can understand it or be understood either way.

    In my own case, it turns out that I actually use both pronounciations: accent on second syllable when I use it in a scientific context, and on the first when discussing distance in a more conversational context.

  88. Ozastro

    In Australia it is pronounced KILL-oh-meet-er.

    It is the same for “kilogram ” KILL-oh-gram.

  89. bad Jim

    I think we get kill-AW-meh-ter from speed-AW-meh-ter and ther-MAW-meh-ter, but we really ought to pronounce all the prefixes uniformly: KEE-low, MAY-ga, MILL-ih, MY-cro.

    The French supposedly stress all syllables equally, so it should be kee-low-meh-tReh.

    Here’s a handy tip: right now, converting miles to kilometers is just like converting Euros to dollars: multiply by 1.6 or divide by 0.6.

  90. Phil, I think you’re right. But squabbling about the spelling of “metre” is a little rich, coming from a member of a nation that says such horrid things as “Monday through Friday”! What, you mean “through Friday and out the other side into Saturday”?!

    The point is, every language has its quirks, and usually I only resist changes that reduce the power of the language or make it more ambiguous. However, in the case of “kilometre/er” I think your reasons make perfect sense, and even though I tend to use both here in the UK, in a rather awkward attempt to placate both sides, I think you have persuaded me. However, had I previously been using “kill-AW-meter”, rather than “kill-O-meter”, you’d probably think there was a plum stuck in my mouth. In British English, “AW” is about 2 to 3 times the length of “O” and is a very different sound :)

    The whole thing must be kept in perspective, though. When there are still people going around saying things like “If I’d’ve been there, I’d’ve been able to stop him” and “for all intensive purposes”, I’d say pronunciation should be a low priority…

  91. Carnifex

    In Lithuanian English (yes, we have that :) ) it is pronounced kill-oh-MEET-er, which is, of course, very close to what Phil pronounces, but yet sounds a little bit different.

  92. Braad

    My australian travel companions usually shortened it to ‘k’ (‘kay’) to avoid this issue. Problem solved. Sounds kewl too!

  93. Oops, forgot to add: I find it strange that you find distances in km easy and temperatures in Centigrade (I assume that’s what you meant) difficult, as it’s the other way round for me. But I think that crucially depends on experience. There was a large digital thermometer on a building by the road on my bus route into school, so I saw the temperature shown in centigrade every day as a child – therefore it’s natural for me.

  94. Quiet Desperation
  95. Quiet Desperation

    But seriously…

    I use both, actually. Probably about 50% each. I think it might have something to do with what words are surrounding it.

    I am strange.

    According to the US Metric Association (yes, Virginia, there is one) there is no standardized pronunciation, so anyone who claims their way is right is, by definition, or lack thereof, wrong.

  96. Glen

    @BJ Nemeth: kilo- is ultimately from a Greek word, but it spent a while in French before making its way to us. The Greek word appears to be pronounced “kee-low,” as you suggest, but that doesn’t mean it must remain that way in English.

    For anyone who really cares about this stuff, there’s a great book called “The Measure of All Things.” It details not only the science, but also the politics and dirty secrets behind the initial development of the metric system. It is far more exciting than the subject matter might lead you to believe.

  97. Bigfoot

    Well, I won’t rest until people stop mispronouncing nucular. Remember, Jimmah Carter, who championed the metric system for U.S. conversion [and sadly failed in the process], actually studied nucular physics at Anapolis. He even taught future prezes Bill and Dubya how to say it. I’m guessing the press corps [press core?], really enjoy listening to the speeches at nucular arms reduction talks.

    And think of it this way, by pronouncing Kilometer as Kill-AW-meter, you open the case for enunciating the name of a certain presidential canditate as “AWE-bama”!

  98. Jonathan Ammon

    The metric system is for people who can’t handle fractions. Really, if the metric system is so precise, why can’t it accurately describe 1/3 of any of its units? Duodecimal and sexagesimal systems are the way to go, as pretty much every early culture figured out. Leave it to the French to come up with something as silly as the metric system. The units are so easily converted that there’s really no point in converting them at all. Might as well measure everything in meters.

    America’s refusal to adopt the metric system is one of the two things that makes us the greatest country on Earth. The other is our refusal to accept soccer.

    Phil, to avoid being a hypocrite, from this day forward you have to take your temperature with a THERM-o-meter.

  99. bassmanpete

    In Oz nearly every one says kil-AW-meter so I say KIL-o-meter just to be b****y awkward! They also say ashfalt for asphalt and per-GO-la for PER-go-la. I moved here from the UK in ’83 and am now comfortable with mph & kmh and °F & °C but still have trouble with heights in centimetres rather than feet & inches.

  100. Quiet Desperation wins it with this:

  101. Davidlpf

    I lived in a house with the majority educated before metric became official so kind of use of both units. I also live in a small border town with Maine so by stepping one foot over the border you were in the eastern time zone not manrtion all the unit differences. Oh Micheal L in Canad we have our own version of redneck jokes called newfie jokes here is a link to a few.

  102. /

  103. I’ve always pronounced it “ki-LOR-metre”, but I guess that’s because I do it similar in Danish. And I mean “ki” as in “chi”, and crap foreign stuff like that. I’ve never kept the l on the first syllable. That’s all I’m saying!

  104. Ala'a

    You know Phil, I usually pronounce it the way you just demonstrated – except when I travel to the US! Something about persisting in using the metric system in a land where the popular opinion , for whatever reason, forgot that the US government has been committed to the metric system since the 19th century. Yeah, probably not many people today remember the fact that the US was one of 20 participants of the Convention du Mètre way back in 1875. Shortly after the war of independence American surveyors started using the meter which was adopted from the French – who adopted it after their own revolution. One aspect of the metric system that is purely American was the development of the UTM system of coordinates by the army in the 1940s, the basic unit of which is, yes, the METER!

  105. Maybe so Dr. BA, but you’ll have to admit that gigawatt is pronounced “jigawatt” (as in “one point twenty one jigawatts”)

  106. Gunnar

    As the prefix kilo used in the metric system comes from the greek chílioi where the accent is on the first syllable it’s just consistent to accent it this way (as it is, by the way, commonly done in Europe, too). So Phil’s probably right here… 😉

  107. Ala'a

    Oh, and BTW whats with the Fahrenheit system??? I’m an engineer and I can comfortably converse with inch and pound aficionados, but I can’t stand the “F” temperature scale :-< Whats so hard about recognizing the temperatures at which water would freeze / boil as 0 and 100, respectively – rather than, what is again, 32 and 212??? Every time I'm faced with an air conditioner with a Fahrenheit scale I get a calculator to set the temperature correctly to a comfortable level?!

  108. Campbell

    Just abbreviate it to k’s as we do in Australia. I’m can’t recall hearing anyone actually saying kilo-metre. I thinks it’s because most of us speak English and not SI notation as you seem to suggest we should be doing. I’m sure we’d all have a great time making fun of anyone who did say km as you suggest.

    Reminds me of a time when two American friends asked if they thought Australia would ever change to driving on the correct (right) side of the road… in return I asked them if they would ever adopt the metric system. Both seem unlikely – but the former for rather sensible reasons.

  109. Martin Jonsson

    I’m swedish and we pronounce it cheelometer, it is spelled kilometer. When we’re in the field of converting the metric system to your crazy american system, do you have any idea how hard it is to convert gas prices? With different measurements and currencies, it is pretty hard. Anyways, we have twice as expensive gas as you guys, enjoy it :D.

  110. Martin Watts

    Just practice the sentence “The theatre is a kilometre from the centre of the town”. I’ve wondered why it is American spellings of Spanish words haven’t been given the same treatment? Why not write of a somber homber in a somberro?

    What amuses me about the Fahrenheit scale is that here in the UK I learned that blood heat was 98.4°F. Then I started hearing it quoted in US medical shows – St Elsewhere, ER and so on – as 98.6°F. I didn’t realise what was going on until I noticed that one of those two figures is 37°C.

    And it’s aluminium sulphate. 😉

  111. Well as gunnar says, Kilo comes from the greek word χίλια (the number is chilia not chilioi and means 1000), as are all SI prefixes from -nano through -exa. As a matter of fact both could be right because of this, because in greek 1000 meters (or metre) is called a chiliOmetro (ch pronounced as in “hill” not as in “chilli”) accented in the O, although the number itself is accented in I because no greek word is accented before the third syllable from the end. And that is why all those greek words you say in the end are pronounced like that, accented righ before the -meter part. Same goes for kilometer. If you accent the I you have to accent another syllable too. But on the other hand kilo is standardised as accented in I and I don’t think it should be moved when added to a unit. So it all is down to personal preference and language diferences, I don’t think we should keep discussing in such a great length about right and wrong in pronounciation!
    And by the way, the more “correct” word is metre because it comes from the greek metro meaning a measure as is theatre, centre and so on, there is no greek word ending in “r”. But I like the american spelling better, it is closer to what you hear when you speak the word aloud. Go figure…

    P.S. If you didn’t realise it so far, I am Greek!

  112. bad Jim

    In choosing between “-er” and “-re” we could, like the Czechs, economize and leave out the “e”: Metr. Litr. The vowel isn’t stressed, and wouldn’t be pronounced differently were it a, i, o or u.

  113. I don’t really care how it’s pronounced. I grew up pronouncing it the “wrong” way, and will continue to do so until I’m no longer of capable of speaking. I justify it by looking at how many other four-syllable words are pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable. There’s a few, but not as many as have the emphasis on the second. (From Australia, by the way, so it should be clear to you that there’s disagreement here as well – thanks, Ozastro).

    Anyway, I think you missed a really important point about the metric system, and that is that the prefix tells you how to modify the base unit. Kilo- means x100. Kilometre, kilogram, kilolitre (although that’s not used all that often). Mega- means x1000 (although it’s confusing because a megabyte is actually x1024 because it’s in binary – don’t worry too much about that). Milli- means /1000. Millimetre, milligram, millilitre. Some are not used very often – you don’t hear people talking about centilitres (1/100 l) much, for example. But they all techincally exist. There are prefixes that range from 10^-24 (yocto-) to 10^24 (yotta-). One exameter is 10^18 metres. One femtosecond is 10^-15 second. Prefixes that represent more than single-digit exponents are not often found in common use, although they are in computer science, particle physics and (shock!) astronomy.

    Usually in Australia we refer to something being a number of Ks away – I drive about 50k to work. Much of that is travelling at a speed of 100k, because it’s on a highway. You don’t see that usage much other than in measurements of distance, probably because that would be too confusing.

    The metric system is one of the only things that the world can be grateful to France for.

  114. quasidog

    We use metric in Australia to and we say it a few ways but the two most common are; ki-LOM-i-ter, or killa-meeta. The accent may have a bit to do with the way its pronounced. The proper English way is pronounced how it is spelled; kilo-meter.

  115. In English – there is no such thing as “British English” – the former pronunciation is the only correct one. This may not be consistent with the pronunciation of other related words, but English rarely is consistent, being a hybrid language mixing romance words and rules into a Germanic base tongue. Language, let us remember, is not intelligently designed, but has arisen through evolutionary processes. The rules that have evolved frequently contravene intuition, as demonstrate with the recently published research on hand gestures and word order ( However, Americans and Canadians can do whatever the hell they like to our language, as they have demonstrated on countless other occasions.

  116. quasidog

    … but I understand … I feel similarly about 1 billion, and 1 trillion. I mean … Bi = 2 right, Tri = 3 , so if a million is one set of six zeros (1 000 000), why is a billion not 2 sets of 6 zeros (1 000 000, 000 000 ), and trillion 3 sets of six zeros (1 000 000, 000 000, 000 000 ), … like the proper English way it was to begin with. >;/ Was America the first to use this other form of 1 Billion and Trillion ? Why did it have to change?

    I never did understand why 1 000, 000 000 was 1 billion. 1 000 000, 000 000 made so much more sense to me.

  117. Words ending in “-meter” are accented on the second syllable, and are instruments that measure, e.g., thermometer, pedometer

    Words ending in “-metre” are accented on the first syllable and are units of measure, e.g., kilometre, millimetre

    I remember Worf, in a Star Trek episode using both pronunciations in a scene in one episode… but then he’s a confused Klingon!

  118. anonymous canuck

    @Phil – There are certain similarities between the linguistics of pronunciation and quantum physics. Lingusitics just has more than 2 answers at the same time :) Or in this case, you are right and you are wrong. So there.

    It is also perfectly normal for the same prefix to pronounce differently depending on the root word it is modifying. And that’s before we take in regional differences.

    @themadlolscientist – yes but below -40 it gets colder faster :) Also below that point it is simply DFC!

    @Michael L – all of the humor hit the mark. Also, we in Toronto are not the center of the Universe. Just the center of Canada :)

    @Geoff – Kind of like “Tarawna” Folks in Saskatchewan and Toronto pronounce “Saskatchewan” the same, but most everyone else pronounces it differently.

    Other oddities and such:

    I recall pasing through Winterpeg one year, they reported wind chill in the seemingly strange W/m^2 rather than saying feels like -50C. It brought to mind the image of being suspended over a football field with evenly spaced heating sources on a cold day and feeling no relief. Does anywhere else do this?

    I had a friend who used to joke a km was a short mile. It lost 2000 ft.

    BM (Before Metrification) we had (imperial) gallons and ounces. You also had gallons and ounces. Neither was the same size. Imperial oz are slightly smaller than US oz. Imperial gal are larger than US. Great fun. 1 gal = 128, 133, 153 and 160 oz at the same time.

    Then again there’s always FFF units @

  119. anonymous canuck

    @bad Jim

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t Czech very sparing on vowels? Isn’t there a sentence roughly “stick finger through neck” with either no vowels or one vowel.

  120. The metric system is one of the only things that the world can be grateful to France for.

    The aqueduct.

    And the sanitation…

    And the roads…

    But apart from that, what have the Romans… er… French done for us…

  121. anonymous canuck

    @Ala’a I once read that Fahrenheit was supposed to be 0 when brine/seawater froze and 100 at body temp. Guess he missed a bit on both ends. So it’s not only weird but wrong too.

    I’m with you, Celcius is much easier …
    40 = hot
    20 = comfortable
    0 = freezing
    -20 = darn cold
    -40 = DFC

  122. George Kopeliadis

    The roots of these words are Greek.
    kilo ~ χίλια = 1.000
    Meter ~ μέτρον = measure
    deca = δέκατο = 1/10
    and so on.
    According to greek pronounciation, I have to vote the “wrong” Canadian accent.
    Not that it maters anyway :-)

  123. madge

    The world is full of variation and diversity. It makes it a rich and interesting place to be. Let’s keep it that way. Language is a fluid and ever evolving creature that we bend and adjust to suit our needs, moods and fashions. Pronounce it however you like. I will understand :)

  124. I don’t get why “it’s hard to adjust for temperature” but not distance but for me it’s the same going from “Sensible units” to US!

    The only way I can relate to Fahrenheit is buy remembering that the tropical fish I used to keep as a kid liked 25c/77f (why do I remember that 30 years later?) and relating to that.

    I’m happily metric, still wonder why the US cant change, and can relate to both for most measures except for temp!

  125. anonymous canuck

    @bad Jim – you are correct that French and English use different stress timings.

    English speakers stress each word. French speakers stress each syllable.

    BTW folks, it is not accent on a syllable but emphasis. Accents are the characteristic way people pronounce vowels (consonants don’t come into it).

  126. David Harrison

    You’re absolutely right, Phil. I try to remember to pronounce it the right way but sometimes go back to old habits. At least I don’t pronounce it “mile”. :-)

    As for temperatures, I’m getting pretty confused. When my twins were in the hospital for several weeks after birth, they were tracking the temperature in Celsius, as were my wife and I when the twins were at home. But now that they are in daycare, it’s Fahrenheit for some reason – even though the daycare workers themselves refer to outside temperatures in Celsius. Very very confusing.

  127. anonymous canuck

    “Besides as an Oxford professor of linguistics, I can’t accept American money until they learn to spell. I can give you a list of the non-negotiables: colour, honor. And get them to stop using the word faucet” … Dr. Charles Gardner, Hut 33; Episode 12 – Yankee Diddle

  128. Tom

    @Tom has it right above with regards to converting temperatures.

    However, I would like to suggest (for your amusement only, of course) the ‘generic metric conversion’.

    Which is… multiply by two and add 30.
    Clearly it works great for converting Celsius to Fahrenheit. (30 Celsius = 90 Fahrenheit)
    It works reasonably for larger values of mass (30 Kilograms = 90 Pounds).

    Where it gets really interesting is: beer
    A metric six pack is 42 beers.

    Ba DUM bump…

  129. Connie

    All this is based on the absurd assumption that language is, and should be, logical and consistent. That idea accords with observed fact no more than that life and the universe are, and should be, designed.

  130. Andy


  131. cooper

    “But apart from that, what have the Romans… er… French done for us…”

    Aside from basically winning our Revolutionary War for us? with, you know, the guns and the navy?

  132. Roman Sandstorm

    So great to see the US standing proudly in opposition to metrication. They have such illustrious company: Liberia and Burma.

    Phil, I’m sure you and most fellow scientists would have no problem adjusting to the nineteenth century. But as for all those proud gun-owners, and biblical literalists…

  133. Canadians say “clicks” Phil.

  134. Robert

    You get less gas in a litre than you do a gallon.

    ’nuff said.


  135. i corrected you on your youtube page, and i see that george kopeliadis beat me to it here.

    the greek word, spelled χιλιόμετρο, is pronounced ‘hiliOmetro’ or, in english, kilOmeter.

    you’re wrong, phil.

    it’s rare, but it happens.

  136. Esmitt

    Another reason I’m going to crash my car today. “Sorry officer, I was reading the speed sign and going over in my head how it sounded”.

    I know you’re just jealous down there.

  137. If Canada is America’s hat, is Alaska America’s ponytail?

    And America LOVES the metric system! We have 2-liter Cokes, liters of bottled water, heck, even drug dealers measure in grams and kilos! It’s only our government that seems to have a revulsion to it.

  138. DB

    I get annoyed at work for the metric system. I tend to use meters to describe distances a lot. Which doesn’t go well with my hillbilly/redneck American coworkers. It’s like I’m speaking French to them (intentional bad joke, since it is French). A normal conversation goes like this.
    Me: It’s about 3 meters down to the left.
    Them: What?
    Me: 9 feet down that way…
    Them: Why didn’t you just say that?

    Or they only walk about 3 feet down the aisle to find what they are looking for isn’t there. To which they get mad at me for telling them wrong.

    I don’t know why I adopted the metric system since I grew up here.

  139. Chief

    Well of course the government has a revulsion to going metric. ie bush camp. The world over in the sciences uses metric and god forbid that the current government support something that scientists use.

  140. Jamie

    I’m Canadian and its just a slang thing for me in a way. If I am talking with friends or something its Kil-aw-meter, but if I am doing a calculation at work, or when I was in school it was a Kil-o-meter. Just lazy I guess.

  141. fred edison

    All of these years I’ve been ordering KILLos of illicit substances, but pronouncing it KEYlo? My bad.

    Canada is like a favorite toque for any season, now that you mention it. That’s aboOt it. Take off, eh.

  142. Sili

    Chemistry World back when it was still Chemistry Britain (btw. Chem. Br. is not Chemische Berichte …) had a rant against the “Eaters of Kilom”.

    I’m sure there’s some sorta conflict between English, French and Greek stress and phonotactics going on.

  143. Ah, Phil. Love your site and your work, but this is an example of a scientist stepping outside of his field and getting it wrong. You may be a whiz at astronomy, but it is clear that you have a lot to learn about linguistics.

    Language is not logical. It does not follow consistent rules that can be discerned by logic. “Correct” grammar, spelling, and pronunciation are determined by how people actually use the language, not by logic. If enough people pronounce it /KIL-o-meet-er/, then that is an acceptable pronunciation. And indeed, if you look the word up in the OED, Merriam-Webster, and the American Heritage Dictionary (and just about any other dictionary you care to think about), you will see both pronunciations given as standard.

    So go ahead and pronounce it /KIL-o-meet-er/ if you wish. But don’t criticize and tell people who pronounce it /kil-OM-e-ter/ that they are wrong. They aren’t.

  144. Chief, no, I’m pretty sure that Bush is familiar with metric, you know, grams and kilos, from back in the day…

  145. Chief, no, I’m pretty sure that Bush is familiar with metric, you know, grams and kilos, from the day…

    Oops about the double post. I just don’t get these toobs sometimes.

  146. It’s pronounced furlongs.

  147. BUDAI, A. Endre

    AS I have scanned thorugh the remarks — humorous or serious — I couldn’t help but feel that the lack of education is prevalent both in the US and [its terribly dependent] Canada. In 1978, when SI (the modernized metric system) was first introduced to Canada, I was asked to have courses for tradesmen at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George, BC. I was happily undertaking this assignment because I felt that the fear of the metric system is the fear of the unknown. This fear has to be dispelled, not unlike with the beginner swimmers who need to learn not to be afraid of the water. How to spell or pronounce scientific terms is not the matter of personal choice but the difference between correct or incorrect. E. g. without someone telling people what the correct way to use Caps versus lower case letters is, and their different meanings are, they cannot be expected to know.
    I wished that the goverments would feel more responsible to educate people, disseminate easy-to-read information that is universal, regardless of country lines or origins of words. It happened in South Africa, Singapore and most countries in Europe when they converted from traditional measurements to SI.

  148. I pronounce it either way.

    My Random House Webster’s says this:

    The usual pronunciation for units of measurement starting with kilo-, as kilocalorie, kiloliter, and kilohertz, as well as for units of length ending in the base word meter,as centimeter, hectometer,and millimeter, gives primary stress to the first syllable and secondary to the third. It would seem logical for KILOMETER to follow this pattern, and in fact the pronunciation [KIL-o-me-ter] has been used since the early 1800’s. A second pronunciation: [ki-LOM-me-ter], with stress on the second syllable only, was first recorded in America before 1830. Although often criticized on the basis of analogy, this pronunciation has persisted in American English, increasing in frequency, and has gained popularity in British English as well. It is reinforced by words for instruments (rather than units) of measurement ending in-meter,as thermometer, barometer,and speedometer, having stress on the om syllable. Both pronunciations are used by educated speakers, including members of the scientific community.

  149. Marius

    I am South African and pronounce it kil-AW-meter. When speaking Afrikaans, my native tongue, I pronounce it KILL-loo. : )

  150. Whats wrong with putting the emphasis on the antepenultimate syllable?

    /Disclaimer: I haven’t yet watched the video because I can’t at work. Maybe you do make a pretty good case for the other pronunciation.

  151. Bill Nettles

    It’s entertaining to listen to someone from Europe, say a German or a Russian, speaking their own language, and they pronounce the unit “KI-lo-meter.” Then when they speak English, they say “ki-LOM-eter.” Why??? Because they learned BRITISH English…Well it looks like rain so I better go put my rubbers in the boot.

    I’ll say KI-lo-meter because I AM a physicist, and like Phil, I’m right! Ha..

  152. Pop

    Tempest-in-aTeapot! Or is that TEMpest or temPEST, oh bother…

    It don’t matter how you speak. It’s important that you comunicate. Besides Canadians got no inside track on us USians. We pronounce things differently so the world can tell who we are. We been doin’ it since Webster and Franklin decided on pronouncing words different from England and France way back in Colonial Days. We (USians) still use non-metric measurements because we are comfortable with them. Why change? Why be like everyone else in the world? Because we choose to. “Limey-Lovers” and other Canadian types will just have to suffer. Don’t like it? Besame Mi Fundio!

  153. JP

    I’m with the killawmeter crowd.

    But then I am an Arkansan (Arkansawyer, if you will) so I think its in my job description to butcher things like this

  154. Greek

    I agree with Kopeliades.Kilometer comes from the Greek word “hiliOmetro” with the accent on caps O. Modesty is not a rare commodity.

  155. Andy Beaton

    I’ve always (incorrectly) pronounced it “KLAW-meters” because I’m lazy and it drops a syllable (Yes, I’m from Trawna). I know I’m wrong, but I’m just doing my bit to force a living language to evolve, now that the split infinitive battle has been won.

  156. ozprof

    Hi BA,

    You are wrong on both accounts. It is kil-lom-eter! :-)

    Also you should learn to spell!!!!! It is decametre…. not decameter…. kilometre… not kilometer.. etc!

    also Jonathan Lubin: the device for measuring small distances…. it is a mi-crom-eter… the other is a micron. :-)



  157. Quiet Desperation

    Chief: Well of course the government has a revulsion to going metric. ie bush camp. The world over in the sciences uses metric and god forbid that the current government support something that scientists use.

    You know, NASA, under Bush, is going entirely metric, right?

    And it was Bush Senior who signed an executive order making metric the standard for government agencies.

    And the claim about the yellowcake uranium before the Iraq war was stated in metric tons. :-)

    And what’s all this rot about “Americans are too stupid” to learn metric? Hey, *we’re* the ones using the system with the complicated conversion factors!!! Without even thinking about it we handle base 10, base 12, base 4 and base 16 all day long!

  158. What we’re all forgetting here is kil-OM-eter is the path to enlightenment.

    OM… *adopts the lotus position*

  159. I habitually say kil-OM-eter, but have been trying to train myself to say KIL-o-meter, because kil-OM-eter sounds like a meter for kills, like you might see in an action movie. :)

  160. Inc

    As an Englishman I pronounce it incorrectly but as a Physicist I pronounce it the correct way, just depends on the situation.. However at least I spell metre correctly, a meter is a measuring instrument not a distance :p

  161. Inc

    What I find more anoying is the American mispronunciation of Beta and Data.. But what’s even more anoying is the general misuse of the word data which is a plural (the singular is datum) grrrr

  162. Michelle

    @Quiet Desperation: I guess it’s just so they won’t mess up inches and centimeters again between countries and crash something.

  163. hale_bopp

    I pronounce it so the joke

    2000 m0ckingbirds = 2 kilomockingbirds

    sounds good.

  164. Geoff

    You wouldn’t mock a kilogram would you?

  165. DCB

    This is absolutely the most hilarious posting I have read in ages! I could come to all sorts of conclusions, all of them probably right! Isn’t language wonderful? Its total fluidity is amazing, exasperating and exhilerating! And in addition, adding to the exasperation is the fact that spoken English is more fluid than written. Now all you scientist types can have the fun of picking this apart. You’re welcome. Thanks everyone.

  166. person man

    Actually it’s kill-o-metre, because it’s a kilo of metric metres, not anything with meters, which are measuring devices that mete things.

  167. anonymous canuck

    And if the correctness of pronunciation and spelling is not already dead and burried, then there is “ghoti” which follows correct and accepted conventions for English spelling.


    Please enjoy your ghoti and chips over a game of Go ghoti …

  168. IBY

    Amen, metric system is a million times better. What is wrong with Americans? Using the confusing English system :)

  169. This is absolutely the most hilarious posting I have read in ages! I could come to all sorts of conclusions, all of them probably right! Isn’t language wonderful? Its total fluidity is amazing, exasperating and exhilerating! And in addition, adding to the exasperation is the fact that spoken English is more fluid than written.

    And this is why scientists have such a hard time defining “planet.” 😉

  170. drow

    there’s a device for measuring kils? where can i get one? 😀

  171. ioresult

    I’m a French Canadian and I pronounce it in French. There. End of discussion. Kilomètre.

  172. Quiet Desperation

    What I find more anoying is the American mispronunciation of Beta and Data.. But what’s even more anoying is the general misuse of the word data which is a plural (the singular is datum) grrrr


    What is wrong with Americans? Using the confusing English system :)

    Well, I’m not supposed to reveal this but…

    We do it *specifically* to annoy Canadians and Europeans. We Americans have secret weekly meetings about it and everything.

    Why do you think Bush won a second term? 😉

    Remember… you didn’t hear it from me.

  173. This has been one of my little crusades for years. But it’s not about the first or second seyllable, it’s about the last two – it’s metre. MEE-tur. Not m’tUR.
    You don’t use a m’TUR stick for measuring. You don’t buy a kilAHgrum of apples. You don’t put 100 kilAHl’TURs of water in your pool. Meters, grams litres. With prefixes.
    Go Phil!

  174. @Quiet Desperation:
    So that’s Bush’s secret weapon?

  175. Santiago

    Killometer, ha! That was funny.

    I’ve wanted to ask Phil for this for a while: If you want to see the US *ever* switch to the metric system you could really really really help if you started using metric units exclusively, with maybe the length in miles or inches in brackets, in all your blogposts and videos. I know it would be a pain for your many American readers, but you could make the argument that quite a few non-Americans read your blog as well, and most of those (us) use metric. The US will be stuck using imperial until a few individuals start to insist and stick to using metric, even though the critical mass for the switchover is probably still decades away.

    Also, as a testament to US domination of science and media in general, I’ve become practically “bi-metric”, changing miles to km, feet and inches to cm, and even Fahrenheit to Centigrade is pretty much second nature to me by now, although the conversion is almost always an approximation, so metric is and always will be preferred.

    By the way, to change celsius to fahrenheit quickly just times the temperature in celsius by two and add 32. It’s a rough calculation, but it gets you close enough. To go the other way, just subtract 32 from the temp in Fahrenheit and then divide by two to get a somewhat accurate temperature in Centigrade.

  176. @Budget Astronomer:
    And all these years I thought it was syllables! 😉

    Now all we need to add to this is for the Korean students that lived me to tell us how to pronounce kilometre… Kirometle?

  177. yy2bggggs


    Here’s why you are wrong:
    1. You’re making arguments by analogy.
    2. Your analogies aren’t analogous enough anyway. Neither of centimeter, millimeter, decimeter, or decameter could possibly commute to an ŏm syllable (sure, they could stress the second part, but as all of your devices are ŏm’s; as such, you’re not properly arguing against the alternative–how would you address that the rule isn’t simply to stress the second syllable if it could make ŏm?)
    3. You’re making up rules according to a pattern you’ve found. Language doesn’t work this way.
    4. You’re assuming there are no exceptions to rules. How many years have you been speaking English?
    5. American Heritage dictionary, 3d ed:
    kil·o·me·ter (kĭ-lŏm’ĭ-tər, kĭl’ə-mē’tər) pronunciation
    n. (Abbr. km)
    A metric unit of length equal to 1,000 meters (0.62 mile).

    1-4 address the validity of your argument, and 5 addresses the correctness. 5, in fact, is the only thing above that’s relevant to the correctness (and as sad as it may sound, 5 is based on usage).

    At best, you could argue that the pronunciation isn’t consistent, and you may could argue that it’s illogical (though you need a better argument). But you have no valid grounds to stand on for arguing the most common pronunciation incorrect.

    Note, however, that kĭl’ə-mē’tər is correct regardless.

  178. madge

    @ Quiet Desperation
    I suspected this for a long time as we Europeans have similar meetings over here. You don’t think we talk like this naturally do you? We put on all the funny accents and agree all those stange spellings just to bug the hell outa YOU guys! You should hear the roars of laughter everytime we get an American to say “Leicestershire” we extra bonus points for that one :)

  179. CanadianLeigh

    After reading all these comments I realize there is a second Leigh in cyberland from Seattle. Being Canadian, I will change my name online to metric. Hence from now on I will be known as CanadianLeigh. By the way I am another of the crossover generation. For most things I can think metric, however my heating bills in Gigajules tosses me. Also air pressure throughs me a little even though I regularly need it in my line of work. Also Michelle, I work with a French Canadian who learned his English in the navy. He is now tri-lingual. French, English and profanity.

  180. JakeR

    George Kopeliadis Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 5:14 am

    The roots of these words are Greek.
    kilo ~ χίλια = 1.000
    Meter ~ μέτρον = measure
    deca = δέκατο = 1/10

    No, George, deca (deka, properly) means 10. The prefixes below the base measure (millimeter, microgram, decimeter, etc.) are Latin.

    As for living in metric, as well as in a foreign currency, I’ve done it for extended periods. The fact is, that you should NEVER convert between Customary and metric–just go with the flow. I paid 27 riyals per kilo of camel meat in Riyadh, but I don’t know what that was in dollars per pound. Yeah, I could calculate it, but why bother? A friend of mine got really angry when I told him how useless it was to create a mile scale for his map of Italy, considering that if he was travelling by train, he had the schedule, and if he was traveling by car, the odometer and all road signs are in km.

  181. Ken Youngstrom

    OK, here’s a related question. In the USA we refer to a car’s fuel efficiency (miles/gallon) as the car’s MILEAGE. Is there an equivalent one-word term in English in countries that use liters and kilometers? From a devoted on-line viewer of Air Farce and 22 Minutes.

  182. Calli Arcale

    “Kilometerage.” 😛 Or more likely, “fuel efficiency”.

    I call it it a “kill-AW-meter”. I do think “KILL-oh-MEETer” makes more sense, but the other pronunciation has embedded itself permanently in my brain.

  183. anonymous canuck

    @Michael L – it goes both ways. Native English speakers may chuckle at Asians mispronouncing English words. L/R/W distintions aren’t that important in some languages just as P-sound distinctions aren’t important in English. Stop, Spot, Post are different p-sounds but we don’t distinguish because the difference isn’t significant. Korean distinguishes p sounds more than English, so native English speakers will make similar errors speaking Korean.

  184. Craig

    What is with the internet fascination with being pedantic? As long as two people know what the heck is being said, why does it matter?

  185. PG

    While I agree with Phil in principle (I *do* so like my grammar and pronunciation rules) I know plenty of infrared astronomers who pronounce “micrometer” the unit of length just like “micrometer” the measuring device. (I also say “micron”.)

    By the way- kil-AW-meter is a close rhyme with a-STRAW-nomer…. so maybe that’s why we tend to stress the second syllabus. 😉

  186. From the bottom of my troubled heart…


  187. @madge: Leicestershire is a good one, but you get even more points for getting them to pronounce “Towcester” and “Pwllheli” :)

    @Ken Youngstrom: What?! Surely MILEAGE is the total number of miles a car has been driven in its lifetime! You’d have trouble if you tried to buy a used car in Britain. I think I would probably say “fuel efficiency”, which I admit is two words, but then I do have a mouth and reasonably large muscular speaking resources.

    @everyone: Don’t take Phil’s video too seriously. I am fairly sure his tongue was in his cheek (although of course, it would be hard for him to pronounce ANYTHING, were that the case…)

  188. Dagger

    Reading all this is better than watching a Seinfeld episode :)

  189. dusty59

    I vote yes.

  190. I use both quite happily — depending on context, and how I feel, and the people I’m with. There’s nothing wrong with having more than one pruh-nun-c-ation up one’s sleeve :)

    Besides, language expert guy, David Crystal, uses more than one pro-noun-c-ation quite often 😀 And chooses to do so. Language has rules, certainly, but where something is in common use it should never frowned upon or disallowed.

    Thus spake I, a txting teenager yob,

  191. kingthorin

    Lots of issues here, not the least of which is right around the 1min 40sec mark with CENtimeter ….. I think you actually wanted CENTImeter. (The prefix is everything before the unit).

  192. @Ken Youngstrom
    > Is there an equivalent one-word term in English
    > in countries that use liters and kilometers

    How about “klickage”?

  193. Dave

    Phil, you’re right. I’m a Canadian that says it the correct way because my Grade IX science teacher taught me exactly the same thing you’re saying in the video.

    I also use deca. :)

    I think I’ll start using the other pronunciation with some games I’ve played though.

  194. cooper

    I would point out, though, that people do say “kil-AH” byte too, not “KEL-oh” byte.

  195. Mena

    Come to think of it, are we going to take the wishes of a people who refer to their electrical utilities as “hydro” as the final word on the subject? ;^)

  196. Madge, I’m British by birth and I can’t even say Leicestershire, but I bet you can’t pronounce Squamish, which is where I live now! :)

  197. Hoonser

    Next time you come to Canada you should visit Newfoundland. Colloquialisms a plenny up there.

  198. erissian

    But the prefix isn’t KILL-O it’s KEEL-O, so I expect you to say KEEL-O-METER from now on, Phil.

  199. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    I see that many uses a language approach to this. But in the bottom the SI system is an attempt of standardization. Of course one can (and should) adapt it to the local language, but also be prepared for the resulting confusion. (“What is a “click”?”)

    So what does the SI standard say?

    – I can’t find anything on pronunciation. If one is uncertain, trying to adopt as much of the french pronunciation as locally possible can’t be wrong.

    That would make it ‘kil-aww-gram’, according to this audio file. The Merriam-Webster audioconcur as regards british english.

    But using other pronunciations is quite alright.

    – It is originally metre. Oops, we use the US spelling here [Sweden] as well. (And “liter” instead of litre.) Historical reasons.

    – It is originally deca. I would use “deka”, again for local spelling reasons.

  200. gopher65

    El Zilcho Says:
    “However, here in Saskatchewan”

    Weee! Someone else from Saskatchewan! Now there are 2 of us on the interweb! Awesome!

  201. CanadianLeigh

    @Ken Youngstrom
    HI Ken, in Canada we rate “fuel milage” as litres per 100km. My car gets about 8 litres per 100km on the highway. As far as I know there is no single word contraction for that. I do not worry about that too much as I have real time on board endurance on my dash. It’s accurate as once I showed 5 km left of fuel when I reached a gas station and when I calculated it out I had approximatly .5 l left in the tank. I’m always impressed when technology works. I would prefer not to test it so far from home however.

  202. The metric system is more… universal, so to say. If, say, Italy was the only one that used this system instead of the US, UK, etc, then it wouldn’t be so friggin’ important.

    I believe it’s a lot easier too. 10 mm makes a cm. 100 cm makes a meter. 1000 meters make a kilAWmeter. It’s not THAT hard 😉

  203. b_nichol

    I don’t think the pronunciation is as important as the spelling (I’m sure I use both pronunciations frequently): a metre is a unit of distance, while a meter is an instrument to measure various things, ie amps, litres, voltage, microns, grams, etc.

  204. Peter iNova

    I guess that means it’s pronounced Astro Nommy. So from now on, I’ll use that.

    The real question has to do with the planet Your Anus.

  205. kebsis

    Hey Phil,

    If I was on the other side of that door behind you, listening in and unaware that you were making a video, I would have thought you to be mad.

    Cool video though, thanks!

  206. ozprof

    @Peter iNova

    The family treasurer keeps telling me it is astro-no-money! :-(

  207. @Peter iNova:

    So, if I asked to see the Twin Moons of Your Anus, would you slap me?

  208. @Mena:

    We call it Hydro, because it’s generated by our vast water resources… water, H2O= Hydro! Wut? You thought we used Hydrogen? :)

  209. Andy Beaton

    @Peter iNova:

    So, if I asked to see the Twin Moons of Your Anus, would you slap me?

    If he doesn’t, I will.

  210. CanadianLeigh

    @Michael L.
    “Madge, I’m British by birth and I can’t even say Leicestershire, but I bet you can’t pronounce Squamish, which is where I live now!”

    Squamish is easy, let Madge try wrapping her gums around Ucluelet or Sechelt. Coquitlam seems to confuse my American friends for some reason. Our Aussie friends have some town names that rivals the Welsh names. Anyway, I find language fun, as by the number of comments so do many others.

  211. I agree with Phil. Kill Aww Mitter drives me nuts. Everyone I know says it wrong that way too. People, it is Kill-o-metre.

    Also, being Canadian, distance is measured in hours of driving at 120 km/h.

    3 hrs to Calgary, 11 to Vancouver, etc.

  212. Mena

    Actually Michael L, I do know why they call it that but it doesn’t make it any less silly. Besides, Manitoba Hydro includes natural gas. I have been to Winnipeg a couple times, it isn’t *that* bad there… :^O
    You have to keep in mind that I have a foot in each country. I’m not your typical American. I don’t, for example, think that the US should send ground troops into Gilles Duceppe. Gotta deal with some stuff but have a nice Stockwell Day! ;^)

  213. @Mena:

    You mean Winterpeg. I’ve never been to the ‘Peg, but I came across a website a few days ago, and there is a town about an hour north of Portage and Main that Playboy magazine voted as having one of the top Beaches, yes BEACHES, in the entire world! It’s on Lake Winnipeg, and apparently has beautiful sand and shallow waters from the lake. I saw the pics of the beach, and it’s stunning.

    Oh, why dod you have to remind us about Stockwell Day… We try to hide him and forget about him. Although, I’m sure Phil would have developed a “Man Crush” on him if he saw him riding his Jet Ski to his first official press conference as the then Leader of the Opposition, wearing that tight wet suit. I can’t remember if that was still the Reform Party then.

    Which brings up another point. Before it morphed into the Conservative Party, someone had the bright idea of calling it the Canadian Reform Alliance Party, or C.R.A.P. And, no, that is not a joke. Someone had to point out the fact that it actually spelled CRAP.

  214. A thought just occured to me…

    If Canada is “America’s Hat”, then what does that make the United States? Canada’s….nevermind.

    Sweater-vest. Canada’s Sweater-vest. That seems safe.

  215. Canada’s Longjohns

  216. Lordy. This one sure garnered a lot of responses.

    To be briefly serious, though, this is the sort of pedantry that bugs me. I mean, it’s one thing if we’re trying to convince two cooperating teams from two different countries to use a uniform system of measurement, but to simply insist that one pronunciation is universally correct does little to further anyone’s cause.

    I once had an Organic Chemistry professor who stressed the importance of “waRshing” all our glassware at the end of the lab. I never figured out where that hard and dominant “R” came from. Perhaps it belongs to my New Jersey friends who buy furniture with “draws” in it (“drawers” with a silent “er”). I also have friends who laugh at me when I speak of wearing “clothes” instead of “cloes.”

    New Scientist had a letter recently which asked if a certain chemical os pronounced OCKS-E-toe-sin, ock-SYETOE-seen, or ock-SER-toe-sin.

    One of my least favorite articles in Astronomy (or was it Sky & Telescope?) had to do with the importance of the proper pronunciation of stellar names. After blathering at length about what ignorant fools the unwashed masses are who mispronounce, for example, Betelgeuse as “Beetle-juice”, it then said that a good rule of thumb is to prounce the words as if they are in Spanish – and then explained how “Vega” should be pronounced “veg-uh” instead of the more Spanish-sounnding VAY-guh (or even VEE-guh.)

    Frankly, I don’t care how people pronounce the names of the stars, as long as they’re looking at them and talking about them. I doubt they’re getting the ancient Arabic pronunciations just right, anyway.

  217. Rahne

    But what if I want to measure kills?

  218. feroxx

    Never occured to me, but germany does the same – most people stress the meter, not the kilo, and switch that around with the smaller ones (KiloMEter vs. ZENTimeter/MILImeter, etc).

    (my last post was eaten/not posted – it said “post will be validated by a moderator ot something”, but that didnt happen, it seems. did I say something stupid/bad? did i miss something about commenting? did the LHC eat it?)

  219. I’m Canadian, and I call it KILL-o-metre. It’s not a kil-AW-gram. It’s not a kil-AW-ton. It’s not a kil-AW-byte… why would it be a kil-AW-metre.

  220. Pisces


    i agree

  221. Mena

    Michael L, actually I want to go to northern Saskatchewan. It’s the fault of the Regina Science Centre. They really do have some good displays. By the way folks, if you ever drive between Saskatoon and Regina during the winter the stars are amazing. I have never seen the Pleiades so clearly before. Absolutely gorgeous. The northern lights were nice too, but I only saw them for one night, and they weren’t that active. Once I get settled I do think that I am going to either buy a telescope or try to build one. There are really a lot of good observation opportunities possible due to the low population (low light levels) and it being somewhat dry.
    As for Stockwell Day, I can’t imagine him being the object of a man crush no matter what manly activity he’s doing. That’s like the pictures of Putin that my husband sent me a link to, asking if he was a PILF. Not bad but maybe if we were talking about some other guy! Stockwell Day? Not even if we were talking about someone else.
    As for being Canada’s longjohns, that would explain Florida.

    Harold, we are all just kidding. Most (hopefully all) of us know that different regions do things very differently and it’s just fun to compare.

  222. Skeptic Tim

    “…temperature in Centigrade.”
    OK, I guess! I always thought that the grad is a unit of plane angle, equivalent to 1⁄400 of a full circle, dividing a right angle in 100. a centigrade is 1/100 of a grad!

    Celsius denotes temperature!

  223. Wow, over two hundred comments on the pronunciation of a word. Well, here’s my $0.02. First, I’m a Canadian. French Canadian, actually, but I speak both official languages, here. My view is that you have to take apart the word to it’s roots. BTW, it’s spelled kilometre, as many pointed out, but that’s another war. It stands for one thousand metres. 1000 is kilo, not kila. So Kill-Oh-Metre.

    Take it or leave it! 😉

    A Phil Plait fan from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

  224. Dark Jaguar

    The correct way to spell, pronounce, or define a word is not determined by any one person but by the times, by however the majority say it.

    I mean they use to say “shew” instead of “show”.

    So I say pronounce it whatever way you want so long as most people understand you. The wrong way, in my opinion, is if you stick with such a meaning, spelling, or pronunciation even when people stop knowing what you are talking about.

    Personally, most people around me say “kil-ah-meter” so that’s how I say it. Peer pressure isn’t always evil. It’s the only logical way for language to work.

    In an example of being inconsistant, meter is better than metre because it’s pronounced the former way, not the latter. I think? Do the french actually say it the way it’s spelled there?

  225. WJM

    Spelled “kilometre”.

    Pronounced “click”.

  226. SpikeNut

    These are fun to read – but then I LOVE languages and dialects. Everyone should blame Noah Webster for what Americans do and don’t do with words. He’s the one who decided to standardize spellings and pronunciations in the 1830’s or whenever.

    Something interesting that I remember learning from a book from a few years ago is that, actually, there are some words in American english that are more “right” than in British english. The Colonists brought over the language of their time from England and, in a lot of cases, the language has not evolved as much as it has in England. So Shakespeare would understand a lot more American english than one might think. I think that’s just really cool. I’m weird that way.

    Harold, that weird R that your teacher had comes from deep in the Appalachian mountains and southern Indiana area.

  227. Adela

    I just go kiel-ohm-mit-ter myself but I’m a former east coast now west coast Canadian.

  228. Quiet Desperation

    madge: I suspected this for a long time as we Europeans have similar meetings over here.

    Nah. It’s something in the water. A contaminant of some sort. Perhaps a parasite. 😉

    Ah well. When our globally warmings divert the Gulf stream, you’ll all freeze over anyway. 😀

  229. Mena,

    I was in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories back in the late ’90’s in March, and the Northern Lights were amazing. We drove out on Great Slave Lake, which was frozen, and just stood and looked at the sky. As far as the constellations go, I experienced the same thing driving from Calgary to Medicine Hat one night.

    Despite what others may tell you, northern Saskatchewan is quite pretty. There’s a huge area of sand dunes up there, and Saskatoon is a really pretty city (in the summer.) :)

    Actually, Stockwell Day went to the same Christian College I went to back when I was into that stuff. He dropped out. He’s not the brightest light bulb on the street.

    If you do go to Norther Saskatchewan, you should head over to Ft. McMurray and go on a tour of the Oil Sands. That is an amazing place. (BTW, you aren’t planning to do that in the winter I hope!)

    Actually Florida reminds me more of those novelty mens elephant trunk underwear… :)

  230. Mena,
    Personally, I think in that pic of Stockwell Day, his thingy looks really sexy…. what’s that thing called? That thing between his legs? His Jet Ski,. 😉

  231. Peter iNova wins!
    “I guess that means it’s pronounced Astro Nommy. So from now on, I’ll use that.”


    Chris H:
    “Language has rules, certainly, but where something is in common use it should never frowned upon or disallowed.”

    I may be in a minority, but I emphatically disagree with this. Most evolution of language via common usage is OK with me, but where something breaks the rules in a way that destroys whatever amount of logic was there in the first place, or even reduces it, or in any way reduces the power or subtlety of the language or increases its ambiguity, that’s BAD. That way lies 1984 and newspeak. Simplification is often Stupidification.

  232. Scott:
    “Also, being Canadian, distance is measured in hours of driving at 120 km/h.

    3 hrs to Calgary, 11 to Vancouver, etc.”

    Ah, you must live in, or near Edmonton! 3 Hrs > Calgary; 11 > Vancouver! That’s how long it used to take me when I lived there!

    See folks, that’s how we Canadians do it!

  233. George Kopeliadis

    “JakeR Says:
    July 14th, 2008 at 11:36 am
    No, George, deca (deka, properly) means 10. The prefixes below the base measure (millimeter, microgram, decimeter, etc.) are Latin.”

    No, they are Greek… Believe me. I study, speak and write Greek for 50 years now.. I’ve studied Latin as well. Romans took these words from Greeks and not even bother to change them much.

  234. Nick the Australian

    Everyone I know pronounces it kil-OH-metre.

  235. Thanny

    Well, let’s see…

    1) Phil is wrong. Pronunciation is never about roots. It’s about the easiest way to say the word.

    2) The phrase “Monday through Friday” makes perfect sense. It means all of Friday is included. The phrase “Monday to Friday” would mean up to, but not including, the day Friday.

    3) Aluminum is the original word. An American suggested changing it to aluminium, to match the other -ium elements. This was adopted for a while. A British expatriate in America said that’s rubbish, and that we should go back to the original aluminum. So that’s what happened, except outside America, where they didn’t get the message, and continued using the old American corruption.

  236. Yes Thanny, but how do you convey the idea that all of Monday is also included? Surely you’d have to say “Through Monday through Friday”. 😉

    I’m actually not so worried about things like that, because, as I said above, they don’t diminish the power of the language. They’re fun to squabble over, though!

  237. Jeff Hardehar

    Pronouncing it like “kill-AWE-mitter” doesn’t sound like English is a second language.

    “KEEL O’Meeter” is someone who greets sailboat shoppers at Wal*Mart.

  238. The metric system is not cool. Sure, the base-ten conversions are convenient if you find yourself short a conversion table and a calculator (and easily able to remember a dozen or so classical prefixes, and the differences between them) but the meter itself sucks hardcore, being originally based on something without any real physical merit. The meter is ultimately every inch as arbitrary as the furlong (which, like the hectameter, nobody ever really used,) yard, or mile.

    I use the metric system when doing physics just like everyone else, but I’d rather do my driving in miles, and measure my football downs by the yard.

    If you want a system of measure with some real scientific validity (as opposed to the ultimately erroneous and france-centric meter,) try the Planck Length. No tedious conversions there. 2.0×10^39 Planck Lengths to the next rest area? I can dig it. Speed limit 9×10^-8c? What could possibly be more perfect?

  239. quasidog

    Validity, Vashmidity… I like my measurement with zeros, and as little fractions as possible. 1 km = 1000 m = 100 000 cm = 1000 000 mm . Easy peasy. Whether it is volume, mass, length, area, capacity … its all too easy when its the same base 10 system. I mean … when I see a table like this … … well. Give me metric any day. The only time I ever use something other is when measuring feet and inches, and even then it is topic specific. Centimeters and meters are my preference.

  240. But what if I want to measure kills?

    I find notches on the stock work for me.

  241. Geoff

    Actually Aluminum was originally alumium but so long as schedule is pronounced with a hard ‘c’ I’m happy.

    That ‘shed-yoo-ul’ really bugs me.

  242. Arthur


    I was just watching an episode of “Cosmos,” and Carl Sagan seems to agree with you. Although I’m not sure how much advice I want to take from Dr. Sagan on pronunciation.

  243. @Geoff: I’m a little puzzled about “schedule”. Of course, being English, I pronounce the ‘c’ silently, as in “Schubert” (although many of my compatriots actually have gone over to your dark side…). However, when I made a list of all the words beginning with “sch”, I couldn’t find a single one apart from “schedule” that I would pronounce that way. For example, “school” is obviously “skool”.

    Could a scholar please step in and explain the etymology for me? I’d like to know why we Brits say “shed-yool” :)

  244. Blondin

    I find that Astronomy is a hobby that is rife with pismornounced words. But I have yet to find two astronomers who agree on the pronunciation of everything. Whether it’s Vayga vs Veega, Spik-ah vs Spike-ah, Ee-oho vs Eye-oh, etc. Everybody seems to have at least one star, constellation or other object or formation that they pronounce differently from most other astronomers. Sometimes they even include sounds or syllables that simply don’t exist in the printed version of the word. I have learned never to “correct” anybody unless they are really way out there (like someone who pronounced Cygnus as “Con-JY-nus”).

    I do appreciate being corrected, though. For a long time I used to point out “Delphinius” to people until a friend asked “Do you mean “Delphinus?”. When I checked the spelling I realized he was right. However, that same friend likes to show people “Epsilion Lyrae” instead of “Epsilon Lyrae”.

    I agree that KILL-o-meter is the correct pronunciation but I seem to be outnumbered by the kill-AW-mitter people around here.

  245. Carlos


    J.C.Wells (2000), a very well-known person who does know about English pronunciation, says that in Britain 43% of the people say KILometre, 57% says kilOmetre (data obtained in 1998). He also says that in the US, 84% of the people say kilOmetre and only 16% KILometre. (data obtained in 1993)

    He also says that “on the analogy of CENtimetre, MILLimiter, it is clear that the stressing KILometer is logical and might be expected to predominate. Nevertheless, many people (particularly in the US, but also elsewhere) say KILometre.”

    How about that?

    I think there is an answer to the dilemma.

    Greetings from CHILE.

  246. Carlos

    I have to correct what I have quoted:

    “(particularly in the US, but also elsewhere) say kiLOmetre.”

    How about that?

  247. Naomi

    I’m Australian, and I say, ‘kil-OM-eht-er’. (Well, when I can be arsed 😉 Most of the time I just say ‘k’. “How far is it to the Blue Mountains?” “Oh, about fifty k?”) I’ve NEVER heard anyone say ‘KIL-o-meet-er’ before today o.o

  248. I say KILL-oh-metre but my partner says kuh-LOM-meter or, as Naomi mentions, “kay”. I just wanted to point out that we use the metric system here in Australia but we still sell beer by the pint and half-pint (at least in NSW) — just ask for a “middy” (half a pint) or a “schooner” (pint) and she’ll be right, mate.

  249. Gebo

    You’re absolutely right, Phil! English is not my native language, but I agree with you 100%. The fact that most people say or do something wrong, doesn’t make it right.

  250. canuck

    I agree that it should be KILO-meter not kilOMAter, even though I say it incorrectly and probably will continue to as its how we say it.
    The thing that i still haven’t figured out is how so many Americans say canada so funny.
    We say ca-na-da, you guys say Kiyanada (obviously broken down for more emphasis).

    example how americans say it:

    and how we’d say it:

  251. It's not that difficult...

    I’m all for English being a ‘living’ language which changes as people change. Kilometer, however, is one instance where I as a scientitian cannot bend. There is a real reason as to why it is pronounced KILO-meter, and not ki-LOM-eter. It is simply how the SI system of units works; the root measurement is the meter – ‘kilo’ is a prefix which means thousand. Other prefixes are: mega- for million, milli- for thousandth, micro- for millionth and so on. This holds true for all SI units and all SI prefixes. For example, you say MILLI-meter, not mi-LIM-eter. Try asking for a ki-LOG-ram of ground beef, or talk about the ambient air pressure in ki-LOP-ascals. Once you realize how foolish ki-LOM-eter sounds, you’ll stick with KILO-meter. Incidentally, keelo and killo are both acceptable pronunciations of the prefix.

    Though the mispronunciation is widespread in N. America, it seems that Americans insist on ki-LOM-eter apparently because it sounds similar to barometer and thermometer. How wrong is that!? Those are measuring instruments, not units of measurement! For example, though the spelling is the same, there are two pronunciations of micrometer – MICRO-meter being a millionth of a meter, and mi-CROM-eter being a measuring device. Interesting that Americans think that they are authorities on the same system of measurement that they have unanimously opposed.

  252. Al

    Thanny say –

    “So that’s what happened, except outside America, where they didn’t get the message, and continued using the old American corruption.”

    I think it is only the Brits that say aluminium. I’ve never heard anyone else says it that way; certainly no one in Canader, ‘cept when we’re pretending to speak with fake Bri’ish accents.

    BTW speaking of Brits and the metric system, ever notice they say military more like “millitree”? (as in: “Made her look a little like a millitree man.” – Lovely Rita, The Beatles) Like it’s a thousandth of a tree, or something…

  253. Neil

    “I’m a Canadian that ….” ????
    How can we offer you any credibility? Surely you mean, “I’m a Canadian who ….”?
    The rule is simple. Things that, people who.
    Sorry. It is kilometre, not kilometer – with respect to the French from whose language it originates. Pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable, not the second. Here’s a little test – try saying ‘centimetre’ with similarly misplaced emphasis – you’ll quickly get the point, and laugh at your own stupidity.

  254. Martin Kloet

    You are a 100 % right ,not 50 or 90 but 100%, most people know or should know
    kiLaw metter is wrong but bad habits are hard to change

  255. It's not that difficult...

    From a parallel discussion…

    “Correct pronunciation is only important in as far as it is an indication
    that the user understands the system whereas syllabization into
    kil/om/et/re with emphasis on the second syllable clearly indicates that he
    does not.”

    See for the full text of an excellent analysis of the issue.

    Keep in mind that by definition 50% of any population has an IQ <100 – so don't worry about it if these "Under 100s" don't get it.

    Another point is that preeminent newscasters (in Canada that would be someone like CTV's Lloyd Robinson) always say KIL-o-meter.

  256. It's not that difficult...

    Ahh yes… that would be CTV’s Lloyd RobERTson. I guess I’m not a preeminent blogger.

  257. Lee

    When i was in high school the teacher drilled it into our heads by smacking a metre stick on the that that it is kilo-metre, just as it is kilo-gram. When i took broadcasting it was again confirmed that the correct Canadian pronunciation was kilo-metre NOT ki-law-mitter. I cringe when i hear people pronouncing it that way. In fact in the phone book (at least in our Canadian city) at the bottom of the conversion chart page, usually at the back of the book, it states that correct way of pronouncing it in Canada is Kill-o-metre.

  258. Julia

    THANK YOU! I am one of the Canadians that says it properly and for years I have been saying to people “You wouldn’t say mil-LI-metre”!

  259. Greg

    I Agree with Lee…it was always taught as Kill-oh-meter in school and I went to broadcasting school where it was taught properly, to the point where if you said it the incorrect way, you were brought in front of the class and made to say it correctly 10 times in a row…very effective way of teaching the right way in my opinion…its just more butchering of the english language, like the word “nuclear” its nuke-lee-ar, not nuke-you-lar…or my favorite as of late, anything with the prefix “dura” when people pronounce it as “jura”…its a friggin D people!!!
    Ok rant over…thanks!

  260. Peter Deane

    I have read these comments, hoping that there might be a definite conclusion reached. Alas, no, you are all saying “ah, I say this” but “someone else says that”.

    In truth, I needed to read no further than the first entry. Phil had it right at the very beginning. I acknowledge those who say they pronounce it wrongly, but aren’t going to change. That’s fair enough. But those in denial who are arguing with Phil are a worry. They are clearly wrong, however they’re actually prepared to argue they’re right. That’s self-delusion!

    @ yy2bggggs who argues strongly against Phil – language may not be consistent, I agree, but an international system of measurement (SI) developed by the French at roughly the same time is in fact not a language. It is a measurement system. And consistency in it is extant. Your argument may be valid, but your premise that “it’s a language and therefore not necessarily consistent” is not correct.

    I am in Australia, and we converted to Metric in 1975. I must say, probably the majority of Australians pronounce the word as kil-O-m’ter (short O). However, this is wrong because the system doesn’t work that way. For a start the word metre (spell it meter if you like) is different to the word meter. One is a unit of length, the other is a device with which to measure things. Thus when you are listening to the pronunciation of “speedometer”, “thermometer”, “odometer”, these “rules” don’t apply to words including another form of “metre” (as in 3 feet 3 inches).

    In SI the rule is that the UNIT is pronounced the same irrespective of the PREFIX. You do NOT order a kilOgr’m of beef; you do not put 220 kilOp’scals of air into your tyres. No, the pronunciation is killer-grams and killer-pascals. Simple then to extrapolate to killer-metres. Yes, there IS some consistency in SI.

    Except for those of you in denial mode saying kilOm’tre. Fortunately, I notice in Australia that the correct pronunciation (killer-metre) is undergoing a resurgence. Also, when I went to New Zealand last year I was happy because almost everyone pronounced it correctly as killer-metre.

    Before I go, @ beche-la-mer – check your fluid measurements in something as important as beer. Whilst a middy IS near enough to half a pint (285mL), a schooner is actually about 3/4 of a pint (a standard schooner being 425 mL). A PINT is near enough to 600mL in fact!!

    Oh, yeah, Greg it amazes me too how the word “nuclear” gets mispronounced. It is a simple word, pronounced EXACTLY how it’s spelt. How you get nuke-you-lar out of it, I have NO idea. It’d be different if it was a tricky word, but it’s not.

  261. Patrick Kirkwood

    In Australia, we too have the metric system (rah rah rah). Its introduction was administered by the Metric Conversion Board. Amongst other things, they decreed that kilometre was to be pronounced KILL-oh-meter. So far so good. Then …. public usage began to favour kill-OM-eter!!!
    I was working in the Australian Broadcasting Corp. at the time, and was member of SCOSE – the Standing Committee on Spoken English [jokingly called the speech police].
    We always recommended KILL-o-meter to our broadcasters. The then Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam, for some obscure “classical” reason favored kill-OM-eter.
    After some years of debate, and acknowledging public usage, we decided to “allow” the use of kill-OM-eter. I suggested that we invite Gough Whitlam, then retired, to the meeting to witness this historic decision. He came, and graciously acknowledged our decision, and gave a classic oration about his judgement.
    As I write this we have news that his wife, Margaret,has just died at the age of 92. May this remembrance pave her way to the pearly gates, not too many kilometres far away.

  262. Jean

    Love this video; I totally agree ~ exactly how I pronounce it. ♬

  263. Steveo

    Leave it to an American to visit Canada once and start handing out pronunciation tips! 😛

  264. Maybe this willhelp. I was born in The Netherlands and came to the US in 1960. I am an amateur linguist. I have a pretty good knowledge of Dutch, English, German, French, Latin and Ancient Greek. Confusion over the pronunciation of “kilometer” came from the fact that two latin- or greekderived nouns , when coupled, often have an “o” in the middle and that -o- is emphasized (cf: tach-O-meter). However “kilo” is not a noun,but a prefix and as such the “o” is (was?, more later) not emphasized. That is also the reason why there is a micr-O-meter (measure,noun,coupled withe a measuring device,noun,) and a micr-o-meter (prefix,quantifying the noun. My fellow Americans seem to have an inferiority complex to British English, especially the Oxford type.That has advanced the British pronunciation, a so-called hypercorrection, a snobbish, thouhg faulty way of saying it. tThat is augmentd by the prevalent opinion of the Brits (and many of my canadian friends) that Americans are born Enlish-language violators. The fact that Startrek captain Jean-Luc Picard ,aka Patrick Stewart, was able to hammer “kil-O-meter” into everybody’s head, almost on a daily basis, helped spread this version. It seems to me that Mr Stewart saw himself as a missionary called upon to bring the gospel of the proper English language to “The Colonies”. After all this said: you know what? The real deciders of how “kilometer ” is to be pronounced are the people. there is such a thing in language for words and expressions as “acquiring citenzenship” (coining).That is: when most people say or write it that way, that is yhe way it is going to be, no matter how wrong initially. by the way the spelling “metre” is not French, but British. The French spell “metre” with an accent grave on the first “e” In American and the other germanic languages the word is spelled “meter”

  265. Robert C. Boon

    Sorry about the typos in my previous note. But why should we in the US adopt the metric system? First of all there is a sociologic reason: The flawless use of the metric system requires a lower I.Q. than the fractional system does.Thus more people are employable in professions that require use of metric calculations in their daily work than if they had to use fractional arithmetic. Be honest now:Do fractional users really know how much an acre is? or a rod, a chain, or a dram, a scruple, a grain, a peck, a minim? And what number do they drill when they drill when they use, say a 1/8 drill? In metric when one uses a 3 millimeter drill to drill a 3 millimeter hole. Two British teachers told me , when the subject of metric came up, that getting the students to work well with the fractionat system was “slavework” as compared with taching the metric system. Secondly:The metric system uses the decimal system, on which, thanks to Thomas Jefferson, the American money is based. It the spread from America to most other countries (Notable exception: Great Britain pound , shillings, pennies). Also: most of the world is metric now, which forces the American industry often to use metric machinery in products aimed at export and so incurring additional overhead. Furthermore mechanics in the US have to purchase additional tools and machinery to service metric products. Think: cars (Japan, Germany,Italy, Korea). I agree that to be “different” may have its value’. however it does not appear to have much use here. other than maybe misplaced pride.

  266. Robert C. Boon

    Sorry about the typos in my previous note. But why should we in the US adopt the metric system? First of all there is a sociologic reason: The flawless use of the metric system requires a lower I.Q. than the fractional system does.Thus more people are employable in professions that require use of metric calculations in their daily work than if they had to use fractional arithmetic. Be honest now:Do fractional users really know how much an acre is? or a rod, a chain, or a dram, a scruple, a grain, a peck, a minim? And what number do they drill when they drill when they use, say a 1/8 drill? In metric one uses a 3 millimeter drill to drill a 3 millimeter hole. Two British teachers told me , when the subject of metric came up, that getting the students to work well with the fractional system was “slavework” as compared with taching the metric system. Secondly:The metric system uses the decimal system, on which, thanks to Thomas Jefferson, the American money is based. It the spread from America to most other countries (Notable exception: Great Britain: pound , shillings, pennies). Also: most of the world is metric now, which forces the American industry often to use metric machinery in products aimed at export and so incurring additional overhead. Furthermore mechanics in the US have to purchase additional tools and machinery to service metric products. Think: cars (Japanese German,Italian, Korean). I agree that to be “different” may have its value’. however it does not appear to have much use here. other than maybe misplaced pride.

  267. Daryl from canada eh

    Follow this link and click on pronounce and then tell me again who is pronouncing it correctly?

    With the amount of terrible pronunciation that happens in your own back yard i have to ask you what the deal is? If that’s all you can find fault with Canada I’d have to say i’m proud to have such small problems! Canada is amazing and y’all have your own problems! Maybe direct some of your complaints toward some constructive criticism closer to home perhaps?

  268. Daryl from canada eh

    I know i nailed that! And anyone who wants to nit pick that needs to give it a break! Is the Merriam-webster dictionary not reputable?

    kə-ˈlä-mə-tər, ki-; ˈki-lə-ˌmē-tər

    And if you’re going to nitpick (by your own logic) why aren’t you pronouncing the “kilo” in “kilometer” properly then?


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