Billions of ‘em

Friday 24 December 2004 at 12:10 am | In Articles | 5 Comments

I’ve long regretted the demise of the ‘British’ billion 1012, a million million, in favour of the US version which is 109, a thousand million. It means that the prefixes bi (billion), tri (trillion=million million million), quad (quadrillion) etc no longer make much sense. The change in the system is apparently due to the US adopting the French system (though France and French-speaking parts of North America changed again from 1948); international trade then did the rest. It’s all clearly explained at A Zillion Troubles (thanks to Gooseania for the link).

I sometimes ask my students to think about the size of numbers like a million and a billion (either version) by asking them to guess how long it would take to count to them at the rate of one per second without a break. Then they work it out on a calculator and 99% of their guesses are wildly out :-?

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  1. Hey mate! You are mean! ;)

    ….
    I sometimes ask my students to think about the size of numbers like a million and a billion (either version) by asking them to guess how long it would take to count to them at the rate of one per second without a break.

    Comment by twirlip — Tuesday 28 December 2004 1:54 am #

  2. Having been born and raised in the States, I’m only now hearing about this alternate value of a billion as 1012…the link is very intersting though.

    I hope you don’t mind, I’ve linked you from my website, as it seems like a very good read.

    Comment by Thomson Nguyen — Monday 17 January 2005 4:07 am #

  3. Very happy for the link – which website is that?

    Comment by Steve — Monday 17 January 2005 10:24 am #

  4. Sorry about that, that would be http://www.phobros.com/thomson

    Comment by Thomson Nguyen — Monday 17 January 2005 11:37 am #

  5. If I were emperor we’d group digits by fours rather than by threes.

    Comment by Anton Sherwood — Sunday 20 February 2005 7:03 pm #

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