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How Many Millions in a Billion

How Many Millions in a Billion

How Many Millions Are in a Billion

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Mathematics is an interesting subject. But that is a very subjective statement someone can make since you may find something easy and interesting while others may find it difficult and boring. No matter who finds it easy or difficult, one thing is sure that people often get confused between millions and billions. At times, we lose track of the number of zeros that will come after 1.

Billion

The original meaning of billion, established in the 15th century, was "a million of a million" (1,000,000 to the power of 2, hence the name billion), or 10 to the power of 12 = 1 000 000 000 000. This system, known in French as the "long scale", is currently used in most countries where English is not the primary language. In the late 17th century a change was made in the way of writing large numbers. Numbers had been separated into groups of six digits, but at this time the modern grouping of three digits came into use. As a result, a minority of Italian and French scientists began using the word "billion" to mean 10 to the power of 9 (one thousand million, or 1 000 000 000), and correspondingly redefined trillion etc. to mean powers of one thousand rather than one million. This is known in French as the "short scale" and is now officially used by all English-speaking countries, as well as Brazil, Puerto Rico, Russia, Turkey and Greece. Incidentally, the American billion is 1,000,000,000, rather than 100,000,000.

Curiously, about four years ago, I wrote the Guardian to ask which "billion" they used: the US (1000 million) or the French (million million). The old "British billion" was the French. It was a bit difficult to understand Guardian articles when large numbers are used if you do not know which billion is referenced. The US billion has become universally used in English-speaking countries. In 1974, British government statistics adopted the US billion. The UK press conforms. The French have shifted about between meanings but finally confirmed the "French" billion in 1961. Most non-English speaking nations follow the French with the notable exceptions of Russia and Brazil. Because the public rarely have any experience with such large numbers, the use of the French billion persists in Britain, especially among the elderly and the classical. In contrast, a US Senator, Everett Dirkson, reportedly once remarked, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money". (Source: www.theguardian.com)

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The British Billion was 1,000,000,000,000 until circa 1974 when American astronomers decided to de-value it to 100,000,000,000 as they said it was easier to calculate light years. Then someone adopted 1,000,000,000 as the new billion. This is all nonsense, what about all the books that have been written using the original British billion? Who is going to understand them? It seems to me that if a name has been allotted to a collection of numbers, then that is how it should stand. Why should we follow the Americans: They don't speak English anyway, or do the same Maths!

Curiously, about four years ago, I wrote the Guardian to ask which "billion" they used: the US (1000 million) or the French (million million). The old "British billion" was the French. It was a bit difficult to understand Guardian articles when large numbers are used if you do not know which billion is referenced. The US billion has become universally used in English-speaking countries. In 1974, British government statistics adopted the US billion. The UK press conforms. The French have shifted about between meanings but finally confirmed the "French" billion in 1961. Most non-English speaking nations follow the French with the notable exceptions of Russia and Brazil. Because the public rarely have any experience with such large numbers, the use of the French billion persists in Britain, especially among the elderly and the classical. In contrast, a US Senator, Everett Dirkson, reportedly once remarked, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money". (Source: www.theguardian.com)

 

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