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Is it appropriate to use the term "mileage" to refer to distance that is not measured in the literal units of miles? For example, would you say that a car "has a lot of mileage on it" in a country that measures distance in kilometers? Is there a more unit-neutral term that is better to use universally?

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I'm sure it doesn't matter where there's no potential conflict of registers. We had trouble (when teaching maths) deciding what to call the erstwhile 'mileage charts' when using kilometres, though. (We opted for 'distance charts'.) –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 14 '13 at 12:15
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In the US, when we ask about "miles per gallon" fuel efficiency, we may call it mileage. fueleconomy.gov In the UK or NZ, etc., when they ask about "liters per kilometer" I assume they do not call it mileage, though? –  GEdgar Dec 14 '13 at 14:53
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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Mileage can certainly be used without having to be associated with literal miles.

Freedictionary defines it as an informal noun, meaning usefulness, or how much service something has provided, or may provide.

Cambridge dictionaries defines it as an advantage that can be obtained from a situation

A person may get good mileage out of a situation, meaning that they made good use of, or made good benefit from a situation. My very old clothes dryer is over 15 years old, and although it now needs replacing, I would say I got excellent mileage from it.

In Australia (where we use kilometres) the term mileage is also used to describe the fuel consumption of a vehicle - I get better mileage from my 2.0 L diesel sedan than my 4.2L V8 street racer. It would still be acceptable to refer to a vehicle having low mileage, although in print (car ads) it is more often described as low kms or low ks.

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+1 Interesting to think that one day, the average person may not really understand where words come from or why they're the way they are. You lose context. Of course, I suppose it's no different for us. How many people have ever used a telephone with a dial, for instance? –  Patrick87 Dec 13 '13 at 23:24
    
@Patrick87 FCC rules still require phone companies to accept pulse dialing (like you get from a rotary phone), so my antiques still work just fine. On the other hand there is a reason the brits spell color with a u, but aside from knowing that it makes tracing the origin easier that is one I have no clue about. –  hildred Dec 14 '13 at 2:13
    
That's the story of etymology in a nutshell, @Patrick87. :) Phone with a dial? You made me feel so old! LOL! –  shermy Dec 14 '13 at 5:56
    
@Patrick87 How many of us, for that matter, knew where mile came from, let alone mileage? –  Kris Dec 14 '13 at 6:20
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Though derived from mile the unit of distance, mileage as an informal term has a broader sense meaning distance-covered-for-the-fuel-used, a sort of return-on-investment.

Mile really is about 'thousands' (in the context of distance); not '1,760 yards' as in use today in formal writing.

Etymonline:

Old English mil, from West Germanic *milja (cf. Middle Dutch mile, Dutch mijl, Old High German mila, German meile), from Latin mila "thousands," plural of mille "a thousand" (neuter plural was mistaken in Germanic as a fem. singular), of unknown origin.

In informal usage, mile does not even reference a fixed distance, implying instead, 'a very long way or a very great amount' (ODO).

Of course, your mileage may vary.

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I believe mile derives from mille passi a thousand paces. –  Mari-Lou A Dec 14 '13 at 6:50
    
@Mari-LouA You are right, though derive is not exactly the word -- it's shortening, as sometime happens, losing significant meaning in the process. –  Kris Dec 14 '13 at 7:07
    
@Kris So a mile is shorter than it used to be? I get the impression they're getting longer. –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 14 '13 at 12:12
    
@EdwinAshworth Should be. I don't know how a pace of those times compares to our 'pace' today, could have been longer :) –  Kris Dec 15 '13 at 5:12
    
Is that a miley-face? –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 15 '13 at 7:33
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