But I'm not 6' !!
April 5, 2008 10:24 PM   Subscribe

I've got a question about human behavior, especially if you're 5'11 1/2" high.

If you're 5'11 1/2" high, tell me:

Have you ever gotten the reaction, upon telling someone your height, that you should just say you're 6'? And is this ever done with insistence and slightly embarrassed amusement, complete with the hands-waving "hush, hush" motion, as if you had committed some kind of faux pas of self-effacement by mentioning that "missing" half inch?

And if you're any height, but smarter about people than I am, could you kindly explain this weirdness?
posted by Rich Smorgasbord to Society & Culture (80 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm 5'11", but my license says 6', if that tells you anything.
posted by nitsuj at 10:27 PM on April 5, 2008

Sorry, I meant to say, "I'm 5'11 1/2", but my license says 6', if that tells you anything."
posted by nitsuj at 10:28 PM on April 5, 2008

I would do that, if you insisted on telling me 5-11+1/2 even though the precision of what I needed to know for was not such that 1/2 inch mattered. Or I might just nod and smile, then write down 72". You don't alway specify your age in years and months, do you? Who cares about the odd half-inch?

That's probably what that person meant.
posted by ctmf at 10:31 PM on April 5, 2008

My problem is that half the time I go to the doctor and they measure me at 6' and the other half I am measured at 5'11 1/2"

I just tell people I am about 6 foot. And then tell them that, no, I don't play, nor have I ever played basketball. In fact, I hate sports.

When I was a kid and people would ask me how tall and I would use the 1/2 and 1/4 inch marks, people (read: adults) would laugh in that "oh look at the cute little kid, so proud of how tall she is" way. As I grew up I began to find this conceding and realized that I should just round up or down because using the extra bit of breath to use the half inch is well, pointless.

As for embarrassed amusement? That does sound very odd. Maybe they are just embarrassed for you because it sounds like the kind of distinction a ten-year-old would make.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 10:33 PM on April 5, 2008

5'11 1/2 here. After i've told people how tall I am (and i'm a female so I get asked a lot) they just argue with me. "No, you're not! I'm 6'3 and you're as tall as me."

During a very lengthy physical for a job at a hospital, a doctor measured me and I am indeed 5'11 1/2. I told him about how people are always arguing with me and he said in his office 95% of the men will claim to be 1 to 2 inches taller than what they really are. He said women will often give an accurate height.
posted by Ugh at 10:34 PM on April 5, 2008

Sorry, after posting, that last bit sounds a bit snarky, which is not intended.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 10:35 PM on April 5, 2008

I am 5'11 1/2" and always say I am 6'. I may go to hell for it.
posted by LarryC at 10:36 PM on April 5, 2008

It is a friendly joke. It relies on assumptions:
1. It's desirable for a man to be taller rather than shorter, so you probably want to be seen as taller
2. Being 6' tall is a particular threshold that it's desirable for a man to exceed
3. You're being overly scrupulous in telling them your height to the 1/2"
So... we're all friends here, go ahead and claim the extra 1/2" and we won't tell anyone. Don't run yourself down by saying you're (only) 5' 11 1/2".

You have options:
a. laugh with them and say "ok, sorry - 'I'm 6' tall' "
b. laugh with them and say "nope, I'm a [engineer, scientist, something else] and we care about precision!"
c. laugh with them and say "nope, [my mama] told me never to tell a lie"
d. laugh with them and make some joke
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:36 PM on April 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

Condescending not conceding. Time for bed.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 10:37 PM on April 5, 2008

I generally round down to 5'11" and have been told that I should just say 6' by several people. Shortly before my grandmother died, she told me she wished that I had been 6' tall. I told her I would try harder in the future.
posted by arruns at 10:39 PM on April 5, 2008 [7 favorites]

Well, I am not 5'11 1/2". But I would totally be one of those people telling you to just say 6 feet. I would roll my eyes at you and everything.

The reason I would do this is because, to me, it's a strange distinction to make. Unless I'm, say, building a coffin for you, the answer "6 feet" tells me all I need to know. Why is the precision important to you? Why say 7 syllables when 2 will do for casual conversation?

In a similar vein, most people tend to round their age off to the nearest year. When someone asks you how old you are, do you tell them "28" or do you tell them "28 years and 3 months"?
posted by cabingirl at 10:40 PM on April 5, 2008

I'm probably the same height as you, since I seem to fluxuate between 5'11" and 6".

I usually say "I'm around six feet." But when I'm talking to someone who really cares about things like that, I just err on the side of modesty and say I'm 5'11". Because, really, if someone cares that much about how tall you are -- to the inch -- then are they really ever worth talking to again?
posted by Kronoss at 10:41 PM on April 5, 2008

Best answer: Possibly some people pay less attention to detail and thus find being so precise strange.

Maybe some people feel that you are so precise about your height because the missing 1/2" bothers you and they then feel uncomfortable because they feel you have brought up something that bothers, and so they try to make it seem like it doesn't matter.

Perhaps some people feel that height is an indicator of self-worth, i.e. the taller you are the more of a man you are, and that you should always try and sell yourself as best as possible therefor why not just say you are 6'.

To be honest these are just stabs in the dark and I don't really know the answer, but it seems to me that the first hypothesis I put forward makes the most sense - people might associate the attention to detail/precision as being uptight, not laid back enough or somethign like. Who knows, people are weird.
posted by atmosphere at 10:41 PM on April 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

To me it always sounds funny to me when people describe their height in 1/2" increments. Really, like that 1/2 inch is crucial? I'm 6'4" though, so height has never mattered to me.
posted by sanka at 10:47 PM on April 5, 2008

But I'm not 6' !!

Does it matter that much? I'm not even sure exactly how tall I am. I think the odd half inch probably depends somewhat how straight I'm standing and how much stretching I've done & stuff like that... Why not just say you're around 6 ft, or just under 6 feet? Yes, of course it's completely arbitrary, as all our units of measurement are, but a round number is simpler than a long detailed just-lower-number, and what's the point, really? It's like staying to wait for your 3 pennies when your bill was 5.97.
posted by mdn at 10:54 PM on April 5, 2008

Yeah, I was probably too snarky as well. My dad's side of the family is historically short so whenever I see them they always comment on how tall I am. It makes me feel weird. That's probably why I just say I'm 5'11". But if you're interested in impressing people at bars and stuff, just say "I'm like six feet. Maybe five eleven. I don't know. Never measured myself." That flippant attitude will do wonders. Really.
posted by Kronoss at 11:00 PM on April 5, 2008

Don't people shrink about half an inch during the course of the day due to the pressure of their weight on the spinal disks?

Take your height after a good long night's sleep, maybe you will be 6 feet tall! Or, after a long day of backpacking, if you prefer to be 5' 11".

Or measure yourself in centimeters, maybe you'll be an exact round number.
posted by IvyMike at 11:03 PM on April 5, 2008

I think measuring one's height in half-inches is a bit unusual.
posted by grouse at 11:11 PM on April 5, 2008

My dad always stated his height as 5' 10" and 3/4. It always bugged me, even when I was a little kid - I couldn't figure out why he wouldn't just give himself the 1/4.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:16 PM on April 5, 2008

I think it's unusual for an adult to give the half-inch. If you want to sound tall, say 6', if you don't care, say 5' 11''.
posted by !Jim at 11:20 PM on April 5, 2008

The Light Fantastic: My dad is exactly that same height! And it used to bug me too... and I used to do (roughly) like people do when they meet the OP: "You know, you could just say 5'11." (I suspect my dad is probably closer, now, to 5'10 than to 5'11 and is just in denial...)

It is a bit odd to be that precise, especially since it does vary throughout the day, with(out) shoes, etc. LobsterMitten had a great list of the socially acceptable options.
posted by SuperNova at 11:24 PM on April 5, 2008

I envy you, but were I in your position, I'd say either "6 ft on some days, 5-11 on others." Or the more pithy "Not quite 6'," which most people will likely just assume to mean 5'11", otherwise you would've just said 5'11".
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:28 PM on April 5, 2008

Seconding Kronoss. I'll say 6' because it has fewer syllables than five-eleven-and-a-half, but if I'm talking to a shorter person, or someone I know to be a lamenter, I'll play the underdog card and say 5'11". I think that has happened maybe once. Twice, tops.
posted by rhizome at 11:29 PM on April 5, 2008

Response by poster: 5'11 1/2 here. After i've told people how tall I am (and i'm a female so I get asked a lot) they just argue with me. "No, you're not! I'm 6'3 and you're as tall as me."

Females are more likely to be asked their height? Huh, there's another curiosity.

most people tend to round their age off to the nearest year. When someone asks you how old you are, do you tell them "28" or do you tell them "28 years and 3 months

Yes, but see, it's always rounded down, you can't claim to be 29 when you're 28 years and three months, or eleven months, and it seems like height should be the same. But-- nobody has ever told me to say I'm 5' 11".
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 12:07 AM on April 6, 2008

I find it odd because it sounds really childish. When you ask a child how old they are, they say "I'm five AND A HALF!" because six is the holy grail of cool. (Then, obviously, it becomes seven.)

When I ask you how old you are, I don't need to hear "I'm 24 AND THREE QUARTERS!" because I'm not filing census data. In the same way, "I'm almost six feet" or "I'm six feet" is enough.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:24 AM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'd go ahead and say 6' though there's a significant loss of significant figures by rounding. When you say 5' 11 1/2" people know your height within a 1/2" of your actual height while when you say 6' your height can fluctuate by a foot. Just something to think about.
posted by woolylambkin at 12:40 AM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

The difference that posture makes is often a couple of inches. So measuring to the half-inch is pointless - you're really just measuring how you happen to be standing at that particular moment.
Furthermore, it's also what time of day it is - after a night of lying down, your spine is longer than after a day of standing up, due to the discs being more compressed.

Way easier to say 6', and probably no less accurate. (STAND STRAIGHTER! MEASURE IN THE MORNING! You might find that you're really 6'1" :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:53 AM on April 6, 2008

Yes, but see, it's always rounded down,

Stop it. You're being overly pedantic and it makes you sound boorish and full of issues. People just don't care about the half inch and being taller in a guy is desirable, so just say you're six feet and stop messing up your chances of getting laid.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:20 AM on April 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm 5' 11½" as well, and generally go with 6'. My driver's license says 6' 0". It's a nice number. People are buried that deep. It's two yards. It's six of one, half a dozen of another. It's half a gross of inches. It's three letters, a single digit and a single syllable. Otherwise you've got to say "five-foot-eleven-and-a-half," which is a mouthful. As others have said, unless someone is using you as a ruler it's more than anyone wants to know, and smacks a bit of Rainmanism. Also, you are not some ideal rod in a Parisian vault. Your height is variable depending on whether you've just woken up in the morning or if it's the end of the day, whether you're wearing the Kiss boots or the Chinese gentleman's slippers, whether your posture's good or not, and you're going to slowly shrink over the span of your life, too... so six feet is close enough, yes, even for government work. Hell, it may be accurate if you've been hanging upside down for a while. How often do you actually measure your own height? When was it that you decided you were officially not six feet tall but close to it?
posted by mumkin at 2:11 AM on April 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

And to answer your question specifically, yes, I've been precise before (when I thought it might matter) and gotten the kind of reaction you describe. Six is almost always the right answer. Most forms don't even allow for fractional inches, so even where precision is wanted, it's too much precision. Rounding up from .5 is what I was always taught to do, so there. Or are you really 5' 11.45"? In which case, why did you round to the nearest tenth?
posted by mumkin at 2:22 AM on April 6, 2008

I'm 6'8" and people constantly do the "no way, you're not that tall!" thing to me, which is quite obnoxious. I always get guys who are like 6'3" insisting that they're the same height as I.

My point? Who cares?
posted by atomly at 2:30 AM on April 6, 2008

A good friend of mine who's seven feet tall tells people he's 6'11", mostly because being so tall is sort of embarrassing to him.
posted by hifiparasol at 2:55 AM on April 6, 2008

i kind of have this problem, but i am actually 6 feet and a half, so i'm on the other side. when people ask me how tall i am, i tell them 6 feet, one inch. in your case, saying 6 feet is fine.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 4:38 AM on April 6, 2008

If people ask, just tell them your height in centimeters. In the US, almost no one will know what you mean anyhow.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 4:44 AM on April 6, 2008

Use metric. Problem solved.
posted by mattoxic at 4:55 AM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

What occasion do you have to tell someone how tall you are?
posted by thomas144 at 4:59 AM on April 6, 2008

I am 5', 6 1/2" (female). I tell people I am a tall 5'6". Saying you are something foot, something and a half inches, sounds odd. Like saying you are 34 1/2 years old.
posted by beachhead2 at 5:05 AM on April 6, 2008

If you're already tall, it's odd to include the inches. But if you're short, well, every little bit helps. I cling to that "and 3/4ths" at the end of my 5'1" like a magic incantation that will indeed extend me to normal person height someday if I repeat it enough. (Just kidding. I usually round to 5'2" because I'm always in tall shoes.)
posted by mothershock at 5:40 AM on April 6, 2008

I'm not 5-11 and 1/2, but the only reason I could ever conceive of using the 1/2 inch designation is as a self-deprecating joke, as if I were trying to make myself as tall as possible. Like the above comment about it sounding like something a child would do. It sounds like something along the same lines of how I answer when someone asks how old I am: "I'm 46, but I read at a 48 year old level." (Stolen from Dana Carvey, I think.)
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:42 AM on April 6, 2008

Say, "Oh, about 6 feet, I guess."
posted by dirtdirt at 5:56 AM on April 6, 2008

I used to be 5-11&1/2. I also used to be 6-1. I am now somewhere below 5-11.

Past 25 (and I am well past 25) height drops. And precision less than an inch is not accurate unless a measurement was just made.

Precision is like the museum guard who said the dinosaur died seventy million and three years ago. "Well, when I started working here three years ago, they told me it was seventy million years old."
posted by hexatron at 6:00 AM on April 6, 2008

Let's all just round up to the nearest foot and stop fretting about this.

That said... I'm 5'11" +whatever fraction shows up that day.... so I say 5'11", if someone suggested I say I'm 6' tall I would look at them like they are a bit foolish.
posted by HuronBob at 6:07 AM on April 6, 2008

I am 5'11 and 1/2, and I always tell people I'm six feet when they I ask. I honestly can't think of a single situation where someone would ask me the question where the distinction would really matter. Personally, I'd find it rather weird if someone answered with that kind of precision in a social situation. In a more formal situation (say, getting a driver's license), they probably aren't prepared to deal with anything beyond straight integer numbers, so they're just going to round you off, one way or another.

Think of it related to other personal questions that people may ask you. If someone asks you your age, would you say you're 25, or would you say you're 25 and 7 months? If someone asks you your weight, would you say you're 200 pounds, or would you say you're 200 pounds and 4 ounces? The latter answers would just sound silly to me.

I'd recommend just going with the flow and telling people you're six feet (or 5'11, if you'd prefer). If for whatever reason that just doesn't jibe well with you, then perhaps you could give an answer like "around six feet" or "about six feet"? Of course nobody is going to stop you from saying 5'11 and 1/2, but I wouldn't expect reactions to change any from what they've been up to this point.
posted by mjgrady at 6:14 AM on April 6, 2008

I'm 5' 5.5". I usually just say I'm 5' 5".
posted by Lucinda at 6:23 AM on April 6, 2008

You could say "I'm 5-11, but if I'm not tall enough for this ride then make it 6 feet."
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 6:34 AM on April 6, 2008

i am that height. USE METRIC, then all your problems are gone. if i ever need to answer just in general conversation, i will say 6 ft (where it doesnt matter). but if i am discussing with any precision, i am 182 cm.
posted by edtut at 6:34 AM on April 6, 2008

I'm 4' 11.5" and I always tell people exactly that, but it usually only comes up when other short people want to see if they're shorter than me.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:40 AM on April 6, 2008

Rich SmorgasbordPoster: "Females are more likely to be asked their height? Huh, there's another curiosity."

Tall people are more likely to be asked their height than average-sized people. 5" 11" is tall for a woman. The average American woman is 5' 4" or 5' 5". Cute little average women, awww....
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:43 AM on April 6, 2008

I think when people talk about height, it's little more than a safe small chat topic*, so my recommendation is that you use the missing half-inch God took from you to show your honesty and humour. Perhaps you can tell people that you should've been 6', but you parents didn't feed you properly.

* Exceptions being for fighter pilots and kids who want to go on Roller Coasters. Then height matters.

Oh, and for the record, I'm 6' 1 and 1/2", and I just say that I'm a bit over 6 foot, or I use metric. When are you guys finally going to covert to metric?

posted by kisch mokusch at 6:48 AM on April 6, 2008

Myself and a friend are both women that are 5'11" 1/2 and both of us have always made that distinction when people ask. I've never got the "just say 6'!" answer, but now I'm waiting for it.
posted by riane at 7:28 AM on April 6, 2008

I'm 5 111/2 and I do the exact same thing, just to add another data point.
posted by afu at 7:39 AM on April 6, 2008

How many of us are 5' 11.5"?!

I think part of the OP's question was more of why we make this distinction, as if it's dishonest to claim we're 6'. In my case, I live the lie of being 6' 0", and I've even defrauded the government into believing it.

As I started to admit my true height here, I thought for a moment, "But I'm not 5 feet tall!" I guess, on some level, I pay more attention to the feet than the inches, and I want to be lumped into the higher category. It's as if we value taller people more highly.
posted by fogster at 7:52 AM on April 6, 2008

USE METRIC, then all your problems are gone.

According to the calculator on my computer, 71.5 inches is 181.61 centimeters, so we are back to the rounding problem. And if you give your height in metric in the US, people will say, "No, what height are you really?" or "What's that in real numbers?"

I only hear people say "X and a half" when they are short, as if 5' 1" and a half is way taller than a mere 5' 1". I've never heard anyone of average or tall height ever give their height that way, and if they did I would giggle because it would sound like a silly affectation.

Anyway, my height varies over almost an inch, depending on what time of day it is, who is doing the measuring, what I've been doing the day before, did they measure my hair or not, and so on. These measurements are just not all that precise. Similarly, it wouldn't make sense to give your weight as 134 pounds and a half. With weight, rounding to the nearest pound, or probably more often, the nearest five pounds, is perfectly adequate for giving an idea of your weight. Rounding your height to the nearest inch, with the decision to round up or down based on social reasons like wanting to sound taller or shorter, wanting a more believable answer, or whatever, is completely appropriate.
posted by Forktine at 7:54 AM on April 6, 2008

Weird, I'm 5 11 1/2 as well, and that's what I say when people ask. Why would I lie? Sure maybe I sound like a pedant, but then anyone asking me my height isn't exactly winning any smalltalk awards either.
posted by runkelfinker at 7:54 AM on April 6, 2008

5 11 1/2 as well, and that's what I say when people ask. Why would I lie?

What a strange definition of lying. By that definition you are lying because you are saying 5' 11 1/2'' when you may be closer to 5' 11 3/8'' or 5' 11 5/8''. There is nothing wrong with rounding, and it is conventionally done to the nearest inch when stating human height in the U.S.

Furthermore, I would question whether your method of measuring height was really precise enough to report this extra level of precision. Reporting more significant figures than can be justified by the precision of your measurements is a scientific no-no.

In conclusion, if you do this, most people will think you're a little weird by breaking the social convention, and scientists will think you're a little weird and wonder if you really understand the scientific conventions either. Instead you just have your own convention of misinformed pedantry.
posted by grouse at 8:06 AM on April 6, 2008

Blargh. My greater than less than symbols totally messed up my post. Jess, or mattex, if you happen by, would you mind just deleting the last one? Sorry I didn't preview. Really, I am.

Anyway, basically what got messed up was me saying, if you really are at least 71.5 inches, rounding to 6 feet is fine. If you're between 71 and 71.5, then round to 71 (5'11). Not that anyone would really care if you "generously rounded" 71.0 inches to 6', but that's not really necessary, and is not honest. But nobody cares if you're almost but not quite 6 feet exactly. If you're about there, saying so is fine.

Then this whole paragraph was fine:
In high school my GPA was 3.99 (some classes were out of 5.0, and an A+ got you 4.33). In some cases, I would just round up to 4.0, which is technically accurate. It just depended on if I thought that was too likely to give the impression that I literally got straight A's, and if they limited me to one decimal or not. So if you're really concerned that you'll give someone the impression that you're absolutely 6' tall, and not a hair shorter, by saying 6', and that they'll really care, then say 5'11 and a half". Otherwise, it's of much less consequence than me saying I got a 4.0. And both our claims would be true. You are 6' tall. Just not 6.0' tall. And I did get a 4.0. But not 4.00.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 8:12 AM on April 6, 2008

Jeez, is there anyone on here who isn't 5′11.5″?

I'm that height as well... but to answer the OP, I've never had that reaction from anyone. I imagine you'd be able to defuse it with a joke or two.
posted by The Shiny Thing at 8:12 AM on April 6, 2008

I always say I'm 5'...in shoes.(That is, technically, if I measure my height not in shoes, I'm probably more like 4' 11 1/2", not that anyone ever measures my height like that.) But you better believe I always round up, because under 5 foot is just way short. Perhaps it's similar for the folks who think you should be saying 6', that then you would officially be "tall"?
posted by leahwrenn at 8:24 AM on April 6, 2008

Best answer: Not sure I follow grouse. To lie is to state something one believes is false with the intention that it be taken for the truth by someone else. How confident you are in the precision of my method for measuring my height is irrelevant - simply put, I don't believe I am 6 foot tall; I believe I am 5' 11.5".

If the social convention in the US is to round to the nearest inch when stating human height, great. Reading the comments above I didn't see any such consensus around convention, but of course the commenters may be an unrepresentative sample, and I didn't take the time to filter out non-USians such as myself.

Speaking only for my personal opinion, I think it's always uncool to round up (or down) if doing so takes you to a threshold which is deemed to have a certain cachet. Examples might be: claiming to be a millionaire (assets: $975,000), to run a 4-minute mile (time: 4m 0.4s), to be 6 foot tall (height: 5' 11 1/2").
posted by runkelfinker at 8:54 AM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm somewhere around 5'4 1/2" and sometimes I use that 1/2" -- in my mind, I am a taller person, see? I need every half inch I can get.
posted by amanda at 9:13 AM on April 6, 2008

"I have no idea how tall I am / Your guess is as good as mine / NONE OF YO' BIDNESS MOE! (as in 'MoFo')"
posted by exlotuseater at 9:25 AM on April 6, 2008

Females are more likely to be asked their height? Huh, there's another curiosity.

I'm a woman and six feet tall (I think the last time a doc measured me he said I was 5'11 and 3/4" but I just say six feet. I DID once tell a friend I was 5' 11 3/4" and he said, "so, you're six foot then?" to answer the question in the post.) and people are constantly asking me how tall I am. Of course I'm just one person so I don't know if generally women are asked about their height more than men but all of the tall women I have known have gotten lots of comments about it.
posted by LeeJay at 9:42 AM on April 6, 2008

Best answer: I'm 5'11+1/4" and lie and say that I am 5'11+1/2". I depend on your observed phenomenon of people saying -- "So you're basically six feet!" I then agree that they're probably right.

I usually then explain the whole ploy, and they end up grinning, unsure if they're sorry they asked.
posted by prophetsearcher at 9:50 AM on April 6, 2008

As a kid, I read in one of Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories (fantasy set against a background of Appalachian folklore, and centered around a wandering minstrel with magical powers who played a silver-stringed guitar) that Jesus was the only man who had ever been exactly six feet tall.

Joyce also made reference to this belief at least twice, so it must be a tradition among Catholics as well.

For at least some people, then, your punctiliousness might be appreciated as an avoidance of a kind of blasphemy.
posted by jamjam at 9:51 AM on April 6, 2008

To lie is to state something one believes is false with the intention that it be taken for the truth by someone else.

When you are making imprecise measurements of a quantity there will always be some level of uncertainty inherent in the reported value. When faced with a reported value of 5' 11" (rather than say, 5' 11.0"), one should assume a level of uncertainty that would include 5' 11.5" on a more precise instrument.

Do you think it is a lie to tell someone it is 5:30 p.m. when your watch says it is 23 seconds later? If you think yes (which I think is against social convention to begin with), what if you know for certain that the 23 seconds part is not accurate? Must one always report the value off an instrument to its full reported value even when one knows that it is not accurate at that level of precision? The answer is clearly no. In the scientific world, over-reporting precision is a far more misleading than rounding.

Remember that people's heights can regularly fluctuate by more than an inch within a single day. If you haven't had your height measured by a trained clinician with a standard method at different points within the day across several different days, then it is misleading to over-report precision not inherent in your measurements. And if it has, maybe you should make a card with boxplots of your height as measured at different times that you can hand out to people when they ask how tall you are.

I think it's always uncool to round up (or down) if doing so takes you to a threshold which is deemed to have a certain cachet.

If you're worried about that, then always round in the conservative direction. Or not, you can keep reporting half-inches. It's no skin off my back, I'm just trying to answer the original question. To explain the human behavior and weirdness, in the eyes of your interlocutors, you are the one exhibiting weird human behavior if you report your height like this.
posted by grouse at 9:58 AM on April 6, 2008

People keep referring to other people's reasons for "needing" to know how tall you are, and how that affects the accuracy of the response. Why would anyone need to know how tall you are? Especially if they're standing there right in front of you, you're obviously as tall as you are, if you know what I mean.
I'm somewhere between 5 and 9 feet tall, but I always just say I'm 10 feet because it's easier.
posted by arcadia at 10:15 AM on April 6, 2008

Wow, what an unexpected topic. I'm 5'11 1/2". I notice people say when they're 5' 10 1/2", so I don't see why this would be any different, but then I'm in a supposedly metric country, and an inch seems like a pretty big unit to be rounding to when you mostly use centimetres. You'd certainly notice if your girlfriend was your height versus an inch taller.

Anyway, this seems to be about other people's hangups/impression of the 6' mark than your desire for accuracy. Along the lines of what fogster was saying, above, I've noticed (ok, yes, I've watched "What Not To Wear") that guys have a hangup about wearing a size "S" anything. At the same time, women tend to be shorter, and people are bad at estimating marks that are far from their own. So you might tell a woman you're 6', but to her, 6' may bring an impression of "basketball player tall" and so she goes "really?" (when in reality she's thinking more along the lines of 6'3"+). Just theorizing. I don't really know.

Side note: my dad is 6' 4 1/2", and I've never thought of it in any other respect. I certainly wouldn't think: oh, he's 6' 5".
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:38 AM on April 6, 2008

I'm 4' 11.5".

I just say 5'; it's a nice simple number, and it doesn't break the DMV people trying to type a decimal on my Driver's License.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:10 PM on April 6, 2008

I'm about 6' 1" but I've been repeatedly told that I must be at least 6' 2" by someone that claims to be 6' but clearly shorter than I am.
posted by IronSurfer at 12:34 PM on April 6, 2008

I say I'm five-ten/five-eleven because I'm not really sure and it depends if you count the shoes, which all those rulers in the convenience stores do ;-) It's much easier to say I'm 178cm.
posted by furtive at 12:35 PM on April 6, 2008

I'm waaaaay late to this party, but just putting in my 3 cents. I'm 5'5" and a quarter. I'm the shortest person in my family by at least 6 inches, and they tend to pick on me a lot for it. Thus, I will always add the quarter. Saying 5'6" makes me feel fake.
posted by damnjezebel at 1:30 PM on April 6, 2008

grouse, neither of us are winning any smalltalk awards here, but your angle on the whole thing amuses me.

I believe that, averaging across different months/rucksack weights/times of day/gravitational pulls from the moon/atmospheric pressures, my height is 5' 11.5".

Half an inch is >1 cm, so claiming that my height is 5' 11.5" is actually claiming less precision than telling people that I'm (say) 182cm tall.

I don't doubt over-reporting precision is a heinous crime in the scientific community, but then I haven't been to a party thrown by Cambridge mathmos since 2002, so it doesn't really influence how I answer the question "How tall are you?".
posted by runkelfinker at 3:06 PM on April 6, 2008

Response by poster: From all that I've read here, it seems like there are equally valid reasons for rounding it out or not rounding it out.

For myself, I don't think logic had much to do with my habit of including the half inch. I was simply given 5' 11 1/2" as my height on the couple occasions I remember being measured, and, perhaps being suggestible, have always just repeated that.

Sure, there's an argument for simplicity when I'm only, what, seven percent away from a big round number. But those who aren't in this position may not be aware of this political aspect of the six-foot-mark: like the four-minute-mile, you can't claim it if you're only a tenth of a second slower.

What really interested me though, when told I should claim to be 6', is the curious insistence of some people, as if they had an emotional stake in it. It really went beyond an appeal to simplification.

They might have been short. I don't remember.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 3:35 PM on April 6, 2008

The Light Fantastic: "My dad always stated his height as 5' 10" and 3/4. It always bugged me, even when I was a little kid - I couldn't figure out why he wouldn't just give himself the 1/4."

runkelfinker: "I think it's always uncool to round up (or down) if doing so takes you to a threshold which is deemed to have a certain cachet. "

Rich Smorgasbord: "like the four-minute-mile, you can't claim it if you're only a tenth of a second slower."

My girlfriend and I deal with this issue every time we approach a year milestone in our relationship. When people ask us how long we've been together, she starts answering "four years" at around the 3 year 9 month mark. Happens the same when approaching half-year milestones: 4 years 3 months is "four and a half years." Drives me bonkers.

woolylambkin: "I'd go ahead and say 6' though there's a significant loss of significant figures by rounding. When you say 5' 11 1/2" people know your height within a 1/2" of your actual height while when you say 6' your height can fluctuate by a foot. Just something to think about."

I'd disagree. With the level of precision we typically use, when you say 6' people assume you mean 6'0".

Also: I want to congratulate everyone on their appropriate use of the rather obscure foot and inch marks!
posted by lostburner at 4:05 PM on April 6, 2008

I'd use "just shy of six feet tall" if I weren't just over five foot ten.
posted by JaredSeth at 5:15 PM on April 6, 2008

I say 185cm and be done with it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:39 PM on April 6, 2008

Well, I'm European, so I'm 179cm tall. 180cm is the considered same threshold as being 6 foot. For most people I just say I'm 6 foot or 180cm, unless I'm being measured for something more specific. Or 'just shy 6 foot'. I'm average enough to not have my height commented on.

I think of it like age: I'm 25. Not 25 and 10/12ths. I can understand why people want to be specific, but it strikes me as somewhat juvenile as for the majority of people it just doesn't matter. And, as someone mentioned above, if you do say that you're 5'11 1/2" to me in conversation, I would assume that you have some self-confidence issues relating to your height.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:21 AM on April 7, 2008

I'm 179cm tall.(...) just say I'm 6 foot or 180cm
I'm 25. Not 25 and 10/12ths.

Interesting. It's OK to round the height up, but not the years? I think this is (yet another) one of those places where the imprecision of the world combined with our very human need to simplify makes us a little crazy.

You was only 25 years old for a moment, and I am 6 foot, 3.17548745954666 (with the 6 repeating infinitely) inches tall.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:16 AM on April 7, 2008

I is use preview.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:16 AM on April 7, 2008

Best answer: Yeah, that's a good point actually. I use the imprecise measure for both age and height but choose to round one up and the other down. I think that's to do with societal norms rather than something I've consciously decided to do.

Let's just not discuss weight and we can all get along. :)
posted by slimepuppy at 7:19 AM on April 7, 2008

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