How Many Million in a Billionor

How Many Million in a Billionor

How Many Million in a Billion

One million seconds is about 33 hours. The word “second” got its name because it is the time it takes Earth to travel one second of its annual orbit around the sun. The word “billion” got its name because it is the 10-millionth power of the number 100. (100 has six zeros after it.


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)


Increasingly in this country we are using the USA meaning of a billion for these big numbers, and a trillion for the old UK meaning of one followed by twelve noughts. The UK government has been using the American meaning of billion since 1974 for the numbers it gives out.

Other terms follow the same linguistic pattern (ending with -illion) but do not refer to precise numbers. These include jillion, zillion, squillion, gazillion, kazillion, bajillion, and bazillion. All of these words are used informally to refer to an extremely or indefinitely large number. (Source: www.lexico.com)


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