Sunday, December 6, 2009

Just How Heavy Were People?

PFC Gerald Hott, the dead butcher being stripped by Bobby Shaftoe (page 185 of Cryptonomicon), was described as “a big man, easily two-twenty-five in fighting trim, easily two-fifty now.” But when Enoch Root was weighing out meat to substitute for Hott’s body in the coffin (page 192), he had established that “the weight of Gerald Hott, converted into kilograms, is one hundred and thirty.” Unfortunately, 130 kilograms equal about 287 pounds. Thus, either Enoch Root and Bobby Shaftoe made quite different estimates of Hott’s weight, or else Neal Stephenson himself did not emulate Enoch Root, “who seems to be conversant with exotic systems of measurement [and] has made a calculation and checked it twice.”

When Günter Bischoff announced the birth weight of Günter Enoch Bobby Kivistik (page 1057 of Cryptonomicon), he almost certainly did not say, “Eight pounds, three ounces – superb for a wartime baby.” He would have used the metric units that he, Rudy von Hacklheber, and Otto Kivistik used every day. He would say, "3,714 grams", or "3.7 kilograms". I doubt that there was a scale anywhere in Norrsbruck (where the baby had been born), calibrated in English units, and who would have bothered to convert the weight? (Bobby Shaftoe would have wanted English units, but he had died without meeting Günter or Enoch in the Philippines.)

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