May 7, 2007

"There is now basic agreement that a trillion is a thousand billion and a billion is a thousand million."

The BBC informs us. This is, apparently, news in Britain.
"When you hear a politician, business leader of [sic] economist using the word trillion, they are talking about a number with 12 zeros...."
Noted.

21 comments:

rightwingprof said...

Interesting. I just saw the American usage of "billion" on an Aussie site and wondered why they weren't using the British definition. So the British are adopting American usage?

That's important information, actually.

SteveR said...

Before I read that, I knew what everything was. The fact that they felt like it needed to be explained, made me confused.

-pause-

OK now I'm better

GeorgeH said...

The Brits used to call a million million a billion.
I'm glad they finally got it straight. Now if they would just understand that there are 16 ounces in a pint rather than 20.

PatHMV said...

According to this, the word "trillion" itself comes from tri (three) + million, or 1 million to the third power. Similarly "billion" comes from bi (two) + million, or 1 million squared.

As I understand it, the original British, French, and German usage was in accordance with the derivation of the word, so a trillion was not 10^12 but 10^18.

ricpic said...

Somewhere, Carl Sagan - that fathead! - is smiling.

Peter Palladas said...

A billion was, is and always will be a million million.

Sadly other degenerate races, ever eager to flaunt their wealth by claiming to be a land of 'billionaires', have caused this sad deflationary trend to triumph.

This is not merely news; it is very sad news for any true conservative.

A nation mourns and continues to call a thousand million no more than that.

Bruce Hayden said...

At first, I thought that it was a wash, but as I thought of it a bit more, I now think that our (US) way is less confusing. For example, for 1,234,567,890,123,456 would be in US terms 1 quadrillion, 234 trillion, 567 billion, 890 million, 123 thousand, 456. But in the old British, it would be 1 thousand 234 billion, 567 thousand 890 million, 123 thousand 456. What is confusing is having all those thousand millions, thousand billions, thousand trillions, etc.

My preference would probably have been to change the million to a billion, and adjusting accordingly. Thus, instead of the old British X-rillion meaning 10**(X*6), you would have 10**(X*3), instead of the US 10**((X-1)*3) (where X is a number that translates into a prefix, X=2=>Bi, X=3=>tri, x=4=>quad, etc.)

peter hoh said...

I assume that a bazillion is a thousand zillion, but I'm still not sure how many zeros in a zillion.

Cyrus Pinkerton said...

georgeh wrote:

Now if they would just understand that there are 16 ounces in a pint rather than 20.


Spoken like a man who doesn't ever go to the pub!

Steven said...

The short scale dates back to the 17th century, when groupings of numbers by threes (1,234,567,890,123) instead of the older sixes form (1,234567,890123) became common. However, the older long scale (10^6=million, 10^12=billion, 10^18=trillion) continued to be dominant. Milliard, originally a synonym for 10^12, was then re-appropriated by the long scalers to mean 10^9 (sames as the short scale billion)

France then, in the early 19th century, invented the metric system. They adopted the short count at the same time. The result was a harmonization between number names (every factor of a thousand got a new one), metric prefixes (every factor of a thousand got a new one), and written numeral forms (every factor of a thousand added a new group of three).

The U.S. then immediately adopted the short scale in imitation of the French, while ignoring the Metric system. The Italians followed the lead of the French. The British ignored both. The rest of Western Europe adopted the Metric system but kept the long scale, precisely opposite of the U.S. approach.

In the 20th Century, France reverted to the long scale, as did the Italians, while the British adopted the metric system, decimalized currency, and the short scale.

At the moment, the English-speaking world has largely been converted to the short scale under American influence following the British lead; the other major short scale users are Brazil and Russia. (Russia uses milliard for 10^9, but calls 10^12 a trillion, so . . .)

William R. Hamblen said...

The USA did legalize metric measures in 1867, and ever since the 1890s all US customary measures have been defined as ratios of metric measures, so the US hasn't ignored metric units.

David said...

Reminds me of a joke:

During a military briefing, the Joint Chiefs had to tell the President that 3 Brazilian soldiers had died in Iraq. To their amazement, the President hung his head and sobbed. They couldn't believe that he was that effected. Finally he looked up at them and asked:

"How much is a Brazilian?"

AlphaLiberal said...

Isn't the tab on the Iraqi occupation now approaching $2 trilllion? That's a 2 with 12 zeroes.

hdhouse said...

Point well made there alphaliberal. Up to now, in British terms, the Iraq war cost only a fraction of a billion dollars and today it costs...perhaps a thousand billion. is that a trillion or what?

Daryl said...

The word "mil" is latin for "thousand."

In spanish, "mil" means one thousand.

If we got rid of "thousand" entirely and shifted everything back by 10**3, a billion would be 10**3 smaller than a trillion, AND it would be a million**2.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

How many zeroes for a squillion?

Roger said...

Phooey Dave--I was going to tell that joke.

Tibore said...

Hmm... not to disparage the BBC, but that was a terrible article. A mere two lines of content ("according to Michael there is now basic agreement that a trillion is a thousand billion and a billion is a thousand million.", and "... using the word trillion, they are talking about a number with 12 zeros."), and every other paragraph nothing but filler.

Even this now defunct page gets the significance across better, the only thing lacking is that it's an old page and doesn't deal with the news that the Brits will start applying the "US" naming system.

trev said...

Yes this is important, I am glad some people here posted the correct information.
We have already had a spacecraft lost because someone at NASA did not pay attention to meters and feet.
Again Althouse has posted something without sufficient knowledge of the true situation. There WAS a difference between the British and American billion and trillion and now that has been rectified.

And whomever said ' a million to the third power and a million squared' is incorrect. They misread the article they linked to.

Daryl said...

whomever said ' a million to the third power and a million squared' is incorrect. They misread the article they linked to.

Fool. Definitions for the previous uses of the term "billion" and "trillion" weren't in the article. There's no way the article could have been misread.

And the explanations were correct. A British billion was a million squared, 10**12. A British trillion was a million cubed, 10**18.

Were you born this stupid, or did you have to practice at it?

Again Althouse has posted something without sufficient knowledge of the true situation.

It's just like the giant spider post all over again! She doesn't have sufficient knowledge of the true situation! It's shameful!

Doug said...

It's sad and a bit weird that the BBC posts what has been official for over 30 years. Britain officially adopted the US billion in 1974. I don't know where Peter Pelladas has been since then (rejecting it because it was a Labour Government that did it? But Thatcher's billions were the same!).