Inchworm, inchworm

I made an interesting observation at the local Subway outlet near my work the other day. Like other American fast food joints, Subway has the annoying quirk of retaining American terminology even when operating in a country – like Australia – where some of the terms either mean nothing or mean something completely different in the local dialect of English.

For instance, Subway insists on referring to its brown bread as “wheat bread” – a term that nobody in Australia has any familiarity with whatsoever, except within the confines of a Subway outlet. Similarly they refer to wholegrain bread as “multigrain bread”. Perhaps most annoyingly, they have a thing called “marinara sauce”, which is just a tomato based sauce, with no seafood in it whatsoever. In Australia, “marinara sauce” means a seafood sauce, usually served with pasta. I really don’t understand why they insist on importing confusing American English terms wholesale, rather than adapt and change the terminology to match the English that people actually use here.

The other thing they do is refer to the size of the subs as “six-inch” and “foot-long”, despite the fact that Australia has been wholly metric since the 1970s, and almost everyone under the age of 40 has no real idea what an inch or a foot is any more. They could (and I argue should) much more meaningfully call them “small” and “large”.

This was brought home to me by the incident mentioned at the top of this post. We have a variety of food places near my work and my friends and I tend to choose somewhere different each day for variety. On this particular day we chose Subway. I wasn’t really paying attention when the woman behind the counter asked for my order, and I said I wanted a “twelve-inch” sub, since in my mind this was equivalent to something a foot long. The woman looked at me puzzled for a second, and said, “Sorry, do you mean a six-inch?”

I corrected her to “foot-long”, and then I realised that by asking this she was showing that she may well have had no idea whatsoever that there are twelve inches in a foot. If she’d known twelve inches make a foot, she’d have probably either just assumed I wanted a foot-long, or asked, “You mean a foot-long, right?”

So I suspect that for some of the young people working in Subway in Australia, the sandwich sizes of “six-inch” and “foot-long” are actually just labels. They don’t have any meaning in terms of length, because they’ve never used either a foot or an inch as a unit of measurement in their entire lives.

7 Responses to “Inchworm, inchworm”

  1. Drachefly says:

    Multi-grain bread is not simply whole grain bread. It is made from flour made from multiple grains, usually a mixture of wheat, rye, barley, etc. – the particular mixture varies from instance to instance. Things made ‘multi-grain’ are generally also made whole-grain.

    Funny about the units, though.

  2. Strange. It might have something to do with the franchising deals and that you are an English-speaking country.

    I don’t eat at Subway very often, but the interenet pages of the Finnish Subway chain tells me that they offer “15 cm” and “30 cm” subs, so at least here they use the metric system. Also, the different types of bread are translated, too, so it’s just the Finnish for “whole grain” and nothing I could see as “multi-grain”.

    Also, the subway woman apparently wasn’t a (fantasy) roleplayer. I learned my inches, pounds, foots, fortnights and furlongs playing AD&D. They at least fit that game somewhat better in my opinion than metres and litres.

    So… why does GURPS Transhuman Space, for example, use inch-foot units also in Australia, in the game-books? (Yes, GURPS uses them and I think will never change, but it still jars me.)

  3. GURPS, while annoying, is sort of understandable, as SJG is a small publisher and editing and printing two different editions would cost a significant amount of money.

  4. BassBone says:

    Marinara is an Italian term, not American.

  5. I was referring to the American usage of the term, as distinct from the Australian usage of the term.

  6. Prrt says:

    The Subway in the Netherlands also uses ‘footlong’ and ‘six-inch’, despite that A. we don’t speak English here, and B. we never used the inch or foot as units. (We did use ‘duim’ and ‘voet’, which have a similar origin, but slightly different lengths, but officially stopped using them in 1820.)

    However, I have never heard somebody use the terms ‘footlong’ or ‘six-inch’ here, but instead we use ‘half’ or ‘entire’.

  7. Hops Splurt says:

    This effect is not limited to non-metric units. The local apothecary sells high-dose vitamin C tablets, which hold 1000 mg each. But when I asked for “1 g vitamin C tablets” the girl behind the counter didn’t have a clue. For them, the measures on the package are also just a label.

    And yes, I am a pedantic wise-nose ;-).

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