And now for a completely different kind of nerdery

A British sniper has taken the longest-sniper-shot record from the Canuck who bagged it last year. Both the old record (2,757 yards) and the new one (2,707) are about one and a half MILES. Oh, and he did it three times in a row, since after taking out two bad guys he destroyed their machine gun, too.

I’m not sure if it’s more or less impressive, given its sniper-specific provenance, but the new record was made with the relatively modern, smaller, lighter, and shorter-ranged .338 Lapua round, not the venerable .50 BMG used by the Canadian. (An American made a similarly impressive if much shorter shot at 1,367 yards with a 7.62NATO in 2005; the 7.62mm does not have the reach of the Lapua or .50.)

The real nerdery of this story, though, comes from the strange editing choices made in its presentation. I assume the range of Corporal Harrison’s shot was provided by the UK military to the press in meters, and yet it was converted to Imperial units for publication. This part makes sense, because as I understand it, the British public still “thinks” in those units (just like we Yanks).

However, the calibers of the weapons mentioned are completely inscrutable, since they’ve also “helpfully” converted the Imperial names to metric. This is weird and probably wrong.

Caliber names do have their roots in bullet (projectile) diameter, and express that diameter in either Imperial units (as a fraction of an inch — a .45 bullet is just under half an inch in diameter) or metric (e.g. 9mm). However, once named they are typically considered “proper nouns” stylistically, and not converted, for reasons of precision, because bullet diameter is only one measurement when it comes to defining a round. There’s also bullet weight, case dimensions, and (importantly) length and powder load, variances in all of which produce a different round that probably requires a different gun to shoot safely.

Consequently, “9mm” is always 9mm, even in the U.S. where we think with inches, partially because there are several handguns (and several more rifles!) that use bullets of roughly that diameter — .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .357 Sig, .380, etc. There is no ambiguity in saying “9mm”. There’s plenty of imprecision, though, if you just refer to the bullet size.

All this means that converting the “real” name — in this case, .338 Lapua and .50 BMG — to metric is just plain weird if not outright incorrect, and leads to reader annoyance. I had to go to Google to determine what the hell caliber he’d used, since 8.59mm means nothing to me. 12.7mm was big enough I was pretty sure what they meant, but odds are that the bullets for both guns were marked in fractions of inches.

But anyway: A mile and a half. Three times in a row. Damn.

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