A Pint is Not a Pound the World Around

An "Imperial pint" (also just called "pint" in many parts of the world) is 20 fluid ounces.

[Updated December 16, 2012]
Have you ever heard the saying, "A pint is a pound the world around?" It's not really true.
In 2009, I published a blog post that started with that line. It was about an email I got from Ben & Jerry's describing how one of its "competitors" (Hagen Daz) had downsized their ice cream pints from 16 ounces to 14 ounces. That post, and the comments that followed, are reprinted in full below because I do not want to sweep under the rug anything anyone said. It would not be fair to the commenters, and it was an insightful conversation.
I essentially said that the saying "A pint is a pound the world around" is misleading and "wrong." I hold by that statement, although I did get a few points wrong, or at least not right enough. I'll explain in a moment.
An "American pint" (also just called "pint" in the U.S.) is 16 fluid ounces.
The real take-away for me was this: A "pint" is not universal. It's location dependent.
First, there is the confusing difference between ounces and fluid ounces. Ounces measure weight (mass) and fluid ounces measure volume. This distinction can become confusing when converting units of measure, and it is the primary distinction that I did not make clearly or get right in the original post.
Second, what many Americans miss is that we say a pint is 16 ounces, but the English say a pint is 20 ounces. In America, we distinguish between the two by calling the English pint an "Imperial pint."
Rest assured, the English just call it a pint. Order a pint in any pub in the U.K., and you'll get a 20-ounce beer. They don't call it in an Imperial pint. It's just a pint.
Baskets of "ground cherries" in Montreal.
Then there are "punnets." I didn't even talk about punnets in the original post. A punnet is a term used in the U.K., and it doesn't have an exact unit of measure. It's basically a small basket-ful. You know those cardboard containers that might hold cherry tomatoes or blackberries? Those are punnets. The actual size varies, but from my experience in markets, the American "basket" is typically smaller than the English "punnet." But very generally speaking, a punnet hold somewhere in the neighborhood of a pint... a dry pint, that is.
Just to really confuse you, the picture shown here of baskets of ground cherries is from Canada.
So what does the saying "A pint is a pound the world around" mean?

I have not found any well documented information on where that saying originated (post a comment if you have a good source, please!), but I would guess it is American because it refers to the American "pint" of water (volume) weighing 16 ounces (mass). You could also read into the part about "the world around" being part and parcel of the American outlook, too, eh? (I'm American, but I do see that my countrymen assume that our nation is the center of the world.)

There's a second saying, though, that I'd have to guess is British in origin because it refers to the 20-ounce pint:

"A pint of pure water weighs a pound and a quarter."
If you would like to correct anything I've written here, I am happy to revisit this whole topic again, but please be kind in the comments. Writing with a nasty or condescending tone will not persuade me to listen to your argument. I am totally happy to recognize and call attention to the fact if I have made a mistake, but I will be much more likely to do so if you approach me in a kind manner. -Jill Duffy  

A Pint is Not a Pound the World Around
March 9, 2009
Have you ever heard this saying: "A pint is a pound the world around"?
It's not really true.
In the U.S., a pint is 16 ounces, which is indeed a pound. But that's not the end of the story.
Most people have heard that the drinks in the U.K. are bigger than in the U.S. It's true. An "English pint" is 20 fluid ounces.
But some "pints" are smaller.
This morning, I got Chunkmail (that's Ben & Jerry's email newsletter), implying that Haagen Daz was shrinking the amount of ice cream contained in its pint containers:
One of our competitors (think funny sounding European name) recently announced they will be downsizing their pints from 16 to 14 ounces to cover increased ingredient & manufacturing costs and help improve their bottom line. At Ben & Jerry’s we think downsizing pints is downright wrong. We understand that in today’s hard economic times businesses are feeling the pinch. We also understand that many of you are also feeling the same, & think now more than ever you deserve your full pint of ice cream.
We are even more committed today to lead with our values through the quality of our ingredients & how we source them to make the best ice cream possible. So, while our competitor may be experiencing a bit of shrinkage, rest assured that your Ben & Jerry’s will still be standing tall in the freezer. Enjoy!
I just happened to have a pint of Haagen Daz in my freezer, so I checked to see how much ice cream its "pints" contain.
It reads 437ml! Sneaky!
According to a conversion calculator, that's 14.78 ounces.
But really, that deceptive. Shame on you, Haagen Daz! Shame on your brand, and shame on your name.

  • LeighMarch 6, 2009 11:27 AM
  • Wait a minute. You're on the B&J's newsletter listserv?

  • Jill DuffyMarch 6, 2009 1:52 PM
    Yes. It's not a listserv. It's the company's marketing email.

  • GraceMarch 6, 2009 2:22 PM
    Oh my god thank you. I have a long, long story about why I hate Haagen Daz, but it will have to wait until we're actually just together in person.
    I've been baking all our bread! Is that moving from food-enthusiast-y to more house-wife-y? I don't care, it's delish.

  • LeighMarch 8, 2009 1:45 PM
    Okay...you're on the B&J's marketing email list?

  • Jill DuffyMarch 9, 2009 12:46 PM
    Yes. I'm on the Ben & Jerry's marketing email list. Is that odd?

  • LeighMarch 10, 2009 7:14 AM
    I love it!
  • AnonymousMay 8, 2010 9:03 AM
    You do understand that the comment relates to water, and water only. Oil weighs less than water, hence the reason it floats to the surface. Pints are volume measures, and the saying only holds true with water.
    Now, about your ice cream. The weight depends on how much air is whipped into the custard. The more air, the less weight, but this will not affect the volume. Understand?

  • Jill E. DuffyMay 8, 2010 12:03 PM
    To the anonymous commenter, yes, I understand the difference between weight and volume. There are actually two kinds of ounces: one is a unit of mass and the other, the "fluid ounce" is a unit of volume.

    Still, I think you're missing something that I did not make clear in the post.

    There are also two "pint" measurements, just as there are two "gallon" measurements: an American pint (16 fluid ounces) and "imperial" pint or English pint, which is 20 fluid ounces. Similarly, there's an "imperial gallon," which is roughly equal to about 1.25 American gallons.

    Whipping air into ice cream is a good point, and I see what you are saying. The more I am reading up on this (I've been on Wikipedia for about 30 minutes now), the more confusing it gets.

    The pint containers hold 500ml (volume). I'm actually still confused now about where 473ml comes from. Is that the volume of the ice cream before air is whipped in?

    There are regulations about how much air (percent) can be whipped in before the maker can no longer label the product as "ice cream" in the U.S.

    Long after I wrote this post, I noticed that B&J's weight on ice cream is not 16 oz. either, and like Haagen Daz, it's given in ml. The size of the container is 500ml, but the product inside is 473ml.

    I've found Haagen Daz containers listing 473ml as well as 414ml (in a "14 oz" container).

    I think the most important thing to note here is how difficult it is for the consumer to get straight information!

  • AnonymousNovember 24, 2010 11:35 PM
    I know this is old, but it's awesome how you say that you understand the difference between weight and volume and then say:

    "I noticed that B&J's weight on ice cream is not 16 oz. either, and like Haagen Daz, it's given in ml."

    It's not weight. It's volume. That's why milliLITERS are involved -- that's a unit of volume. Ya know how you can buy a GALLON of ice cream? It's sold by volume.

  • Jill E. DuffyNovember 26, 2010 9:35 AM
    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Jill E. DuffyNovember 26, 2010 9:40 AM
    I wouldn't say it's "awesome." I would say I made another mistake. I should have said "unit of measure."

  • Anonymous January 3, 2011 12:25 AM
    Actually, you're both wrong. A pint of water is not a pound.
    1 pint = 16 fluid oz.
    1 pound = 16 (dry) oz.

    1 fl. oz. of water does not equal 1 dry oz. of water. To break this down, it's easiest convert it all into metric units.

    1 pint = 473.176473 mL
    1 pound = 453.59237 g

    Now, since the density of water is 1 g/mL (i.e. 1 mL of water = 1 g), you can see that 1 pint (473 mL) does not equal 1 pound (453 g).

    This has nothing to do with imperial measurements, the saying is simply wrong. A pint of water weighs approximately 1.04 lbs., and this is because 1 fluid oz. and 1 (dry) oz. are two very different measurements. People think that the density of water is 1, and, therefore, 1 fl. oz. of water = 1 oz. This is incorrect. The density of water is 1 g/mL, but not 1 oz./fl. oz. In the US customary system, the density of water is actually .9586 oz./fl. oz.

  • AnonymousJanuary 17, 2012 12:35 AM
    1st, Clearly people in general cannot understand the difference between units of weight and units of volume...
    2nd, The saying " A pints a pound the world around " is just a simple saying to help people remember the approximate weight of water, or any other liquid with a similar density.
    1.00lbs vs 1.04lbs would take a bit to make a difference unless you were in a laboratory- in that case you probably shouldnt be using the saying in the first place.

    AnonymousDecember 15, 2012 8:49 AM
    Thank you.! Finally someone gets it. Phew.