Posted by: episystechpubs | February 5, 2016

Editor’s Corner: You Know What’s Cool? A Milliard Dollars

When the Powerball® jackpot reached a billion dollars, people were excited. But French- and Spanish-speakers might have been extra excited.

Why? Because in French and Spanish (and, until recently, British English), a billion isn’t 1,000,000,000; it’s 1,000,000,000,000—a trillion in American English.

Winning a billion dollars would make you the 537th-richest person in the United States. Winning a trillion dollars would make you the richest person in the world—11 times as rich as Bill Gates.

For large numbers, America uses what’s called the short scale numbering system. Our system was modeled on the French system, but France switched to the British (long scale) system about the same time Britain switched to the American system.

This chart shows some large numbers and their names in the short and long scales.

Standard Notation Scientific Notation Short Scale (English) Long Scale (French, Spanish)
1,000,000 10^6 million million
1,000,000,000 10^9 billion milliard (or thousand million)
1,000,000,000,000 10^12 trillion billion
1,000,000,000,000,000 10^15 quadrillion trillion

Currently, the long scale is used in continental Europe and most French-, Spanish-, and Portuguese-speaking countries (except Brazil). The short scale is used in most English- and Arabic-speaking countries and Brazil.

If you think this sounds confusing, you’re not alone. In fact, the National Institute of Standards and Technology advises, "Because the names of numbers 10^9 and larger are not uniform worldwide, it is best that they be avoided altogether."

Fortunately (or unfortunately, for us Powerball players), most of us don’t deal with numbers that large very often.

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
8985 Balboa Avenue | San Diego, CA 92123
619-682-3391 | or ext. 763391 | www.Symitar.com

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