Field of Science

Two thousand mockingbirds

I'm writing final exams for two intro chem courses. I try for a light touch brush of humor on at least a couple of the questions, it's stressful enough without every question probing deeply important things.

Some useful (in this context) unit conversions:

2000 mockingbirds = 2 kilomockingbirds
10-6 fish = 1 microfiche
454 graham crackers = 1 pound cake
10 millipedes = 1 centipede
10 monologs = 5 dialogues
2 monograms = 1 diagram
8 nickels = 2 paradigms
10-2 mental = 1 centimental

Have more to suggest?


  1. Half of a large intestine: 1 semicolon

    2 PhDs: 1 Paradox

    1 trillion microphones: 1 megaphone

    3 1/3 tridents: 1 decadent

    1000 kg of laundry: 1 (metric) Washington

  2. My favorite is the last: 1 (metric) washington,

    But should it be a lower case "w" to follow IUPAC conventions?

  3. 4 die = 1 paradice
    1E-12 tomatoes = 1 pico de gallo
    1E-18 men = 1 attoboy

  4. You have to be careful with these in a testing environment, because it can put an unfair burden on ESL students. The mockingbirds twig a memory of a test question featuring various sorts of birds. It was absent silly metric prefixes and literary references, but the question asked for the total number of birds and a number of students with perfectly functional English skills were unable to get the marks because they didn't know that "starlings," "kites" and "petrels" were birds. It has lingered with me as an example of unfairness.

  5. Aviatrix,

    You make an excellent point, you have to be quite careful about inadvertent associations and since my students come from all over the world, I've gotten pretty alert to this. My teachable moment came when I asked about iced tea and lemon. A beverage many of my students had not encountered!

    I should have said that I used the conversions as a quote on the cover sheet of the exam (which I always have), not as part of the actual test!

  6. I like these conversions! I wish I could help by adding one or two of my own. However, I think it is a nice humorous touch that also provides a learning opportunity.


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