Why are yards and metres so different in length?

In the twelfth century, Henry I of England decreed that a yard would be the distance from his nose to the thumb of his outstretched arm. As crude as this seems, Henry was only off by one-hundredth of an inch from today’s version. The metre was introduced by the French after the revolution and was intended to be exactly one-ten-millionth the distance between the North Pole and the equator, which was incorrectly calculated as 39.37 inches.

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