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Thread: How much is a million, a billion, or a trillion?

  1. #11
    Leif & Adrian are correct, although Leif mistyped when he said (in parentheses) that a million million is a milliard.
    As he says, a milliard is the same as a US billion, that is, a thousand million, 10^9. In most of the world, a billion is 10^12. Numbers are unambiguous, the names aren't. Find a comparison chart here.

    When I was a child I learned that "a pint's a pound, the world around." But it's true only in the USA.
    - Richard

  2. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by rfbdorf
    Leif & Adrian are correct, although Leif mistyped when he said (in parentheses) that a million million is a milliard.
    As he says, a milliard is the same as a US billion, that is, a thousand million, 10^9. In most of the world, a billion is 10^12. Numbers are unambiguous, the names aren't. Find a comparison chart here.

    When I was a child I learned that "a pint's a pound, the world around." But it's true only in the USA.
    - Richard
    Wow, is that true? A billion in Europe is really a trillion? I found this very scholarly discussion of the subject

    http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/52579.html

    American vs. European Billion

    Date: 07/30/2000 at 18:42:34
    From: Walter
    Subject: Difference between an American and a European billion

    I don't know if this is really a math question but I asked myself
    this question during my whole school time. Even my teachers can't
    answer this question.

    The American system is:
    10^06 = million
    10^09 = billion
    10^12 = trillion
    ...

    The European system (formerly used in Britain, still used in Germany)
    is:
    10^06 = million
    10^09 = thousand million
    10^12 = billion
    10^15 = thousand billion
    10^18 = trillion
    10^21 = thousand trillion
    ...

    Why the differences? I hope you can help me.

    Walter

    Date: 07/30/2000 at 19:08:07
    From: Doctor Anthony
    Subject: Re: Difference between an American and a European billion

    The reason for the difference is historical and relates to the fact
    that Latin is not taught to the same extent in America as in Europe.
    The bi-million, tri-million is an obvious extension from 10^6 to 10^12
    to 10^18 in the European system and these become billion and trillion,
    respectively.

    In America the need for a simple word for 1000 million and an absence
    of Latin led to the misappropriation of the word 'billion'. England
    held out for a long time with the 10^12 meaning of billion, but was
    eventually overwhelmed by the sheer weight of scientific and
    mathematical literature that used the American interpretation, so
    billion in England is now used in the American sense. Europe may
    eventually follow suit, but it will be a change from a logical system
    to an arbitrary one.

    - Doctor Anthony, The Math Forum
    http://mathforum.org/dr.math/

    Date: 04/10/2001 at 17:12:00
    From: Doctor Peterson
    Subject: Re: Difference between an American and a European billion

    It sounds plausible, especially from a British perspective, that the
    "arbitrary" American system should be due to our lack of education;
    but I'm not sure the charge holds up to historical investigation. I'm
    suspicious, in the first place, because I know from my own ancestors'
    heritage that Latin was an important part of American education at
    least in the 19th century, and surely also before then for those who
    were educated. It may be true that Latin is not taught enough here,
    but that has not always been true.

    As our friend Jeff Miller says , first quoting D. E. Smith,

    http://members.aol.com/jeff570/m.html

    The French use of milliard, for 10^9, with billion as an
    alternative, is relatively late. The word appears at least as
    early as the beginning of the 16th century as the equivalent
    both of 10^9 and of 10^12, the latter being the billion of
    England today. By the 17th century, however, it was used in
    Holland to mean 10^9, and no doubt it was about this time that
    the usage began to change in France.

    [This isn't quite clear, but "billion" meant 10^9 in France at least
    by the early 18th century.]

    As to the American usage, taking a billion to mean a thousand
    million and running the subsequent names by thousands, it
    should be said that this is due in part to French influence
    after the Revolutionary War, although our earliest native
    American arithmetic, the Greenwood book of 1729, gave the
    billion as 10^9, the trillion as 10^12, and so on. Names
    for large numbers were the fashion in early days, Pike's
    well-known arithmetic (1788), for example, proceeding to
    duodecillions before taking up addition.

    Further, from the OED,

    The name [billion] appears not to have been adopted in Eng.
    before the end of the 17th c. .... Subsequently the application
    of the word was changed by French arithmeticians, figures
    being divided in numeration into groups of threes, instead of
    sixes, so that F. billion, trillion, denoted not the second
    and third powers of a million, but a thousand millions and a
    thousand thousand millions. In the 19th century, the U.S.
    adopted the French convention, but Britain retained the
    original and etymological use (to which France reverted in 1948).
    Since 1951 the U.S. value, a thousand millions, has been
    increasingly used in Britain, especially in technical writing
    and, more recently, in journalism; but the older sense "a
    million millions" is still common.

    Putting this together, we see that the "American" use of "billion"
    originated not here but in France; and that it was probably based not
    on stupidity, but on practicality (another well-known characteristic
    of Americans), as there was more need for a name for 10^9 than for
    10^12. There _is_ logic behind the usage; in this system, billion
    doesn't mean "million squared" but "second -illion" counting by
    thousands. It's hardly different from deciding whether to index
    arrays starting at 0 or 1. You just have to choose where to start and
    how big a step to take, and the numbers follow a logical progression.

    I fully agree that the original British usage is nicer and easier to
    explain, and I wish it were the standard system; but the other is not
    really arbitrary. It should also be noted that France, not Britain,
    was the center of mathematical scholarship at the time "billion" was
    imported into America, so it can be reasonably suggested that the
    Americans adopted it for the same reason the British have more
    recently: it was used by the most important writers.

    -Doctor Peterson
    http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
    Chinese think in 10,000 units or wan4. So, for example, a thousand is qian1 (1,000), ten thousand (10,000) is wan4, and one hundred million (100,000,000) or ten thousand ten thousands is yi4. Thus, a billion would be ten yi4. See http://www.mandarintools.com/numbers.html

    Amazingly, the ancient Chinese had names for very large numbers, i.e. zhao for a trillion (10^12), jing for 10^16, gai for 10^20, zi for 10^24, rang for 10^28, gou for 10^32, jian for 10^36, zheng for 10^40, zai for 10^44, and ji for 10^48, henghesha for 10^52, unpronounciable for 10^56, nayouta for 10^60, bukesiyi for 10^64, wulian for 10^68, and dashu for 10^72. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_numerals

    Wise.
    Last edited by Wise Young; 03-29-2007 at 07:15 AM.

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