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When Is A Billion Not A Billion?

18 Sep

Did you know that the American system for naming large numbers is not the same as the British system? What we call a billion, they call a thousand million. And what they call a billion, we call a trillion! And it continues from there. After a million, we do not agree on any of the names for large numbers.

The chart below summarizes the differences:

Number                        P of 10   American       /        British

1,000                               103      thousand       /        thousand

1,000,000                         106      million           /        million

1,000,000,000                   109      billion           /         thousand million

1,000,000,000,000             1012    trillion          /         billion

1,000,000,000,000,000       1015    quadrillion    /        thousand billion

1,000,000,000,000,000,000 1018   quintillion     /         trillion

Billion may refer to either of the two values:

  1. 1,000,000,000 (one thousand million, 109, SI prefix: giga-) – for all short scale countries
  2. 1,000,000,000,000 (one million million, 1012, SI Prefix: tera-) – for all long scale countries

The long and short scales are two different numerical systems used throughout the world:

Short scale is the English translation of the French term échelle courte. It refers to a system of numeric names in which every new term greater than million is 1,000 times the previous term: “billion” means “a thousand millions” (109), “trillion” means “a thousand billions” (1012), and so on.
Long scale is the English translation of the French term échelle longue. It refers to a system of numeric names in which every new term greater than million is 1,000,000 times the previous term: “billion” means “a million millions” (1012), “trillion” means “a million billions” (1018), and so on.

As you can see, Americans name their numbers based on powers of 10 that are multiples of 3, while the British name theirs based on multiples of 6.

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Posted by on September 18, 2008 in Mathematics

 

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