Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What is a Billion?

I just saw a video about this and I decided to do some research to try and  understand it better.  Since I like to share things I learn sometimes I figured I'd make a post hoping that maybe someone else who didn't know about this will find it interesting as well.

If I ask you "What's a Billion?"  most of you will probably answer "A Thousand Millions!"

Well, that's technically correct and incorrect.

You see for a long ti^me the British and most of Europe used a numbering system that we now call the "Long Scale".  Americans came up with the "Short Scale" and in 1974 the UK decided to start using the Short Scale. But since 1974 wasn't that long ago, you still have a lot of people in the UK using the older Long Scale.  It is also used in a lot of Europe.

So what is the difference?

Short Scale:

In the Short scale we have:

1 - One - 10^0 (Ten to the power of 0)

Side Note:  When you do a "To the power of" it is always 1 Times whatever number however many times the power is, so 10 to the power of 1 is really 1 time 10 zero times so really it's just 1.  Had it been 10^1 then it would be 1 times 10 once which is 1X10 = 10

10 - Ten - 10^1
100 - One Hundred - 10^2 (again 1 X 10 = 10 X 10 = 100)
1,000 - One Thousand - 10^3
10,000 - Ten Thousand - 10^4
100,000 - One Hundred Thousand - 10^5
1,000,000 - One Million - 10^6
10,000,000 - Ten Million - 10^7
100,000,000 - One Hundred Million - 10^8
1,000,000,000 - One Billion - 10^9

But do you know why we call a Thousand a Thousand?  This is because 1,000 is a Thousandth of a Million. There is a thousand Thousandths in a Million.  So why exactly are we using the Million as some sort of guide?  This is because of the Long Scale.

Long Scale: 

In the Long Scale you go by Millions.

1 - One - 10^0
10 - Ten - 10^1
100 - One Hundred - 10^2
1,000 - One Thousand - 10^3
10,000 - Ten Thousand - 10^4
100,000 - One Hundred Thousand - 10^5
1,000,000 - One Million - 10^6

10,000,000 - Ten Million - 10^7
100,000,000 - One Hundred Million - 10^8


This is all exactly the same but now things get a little different.

1,000,000,000 - One Thousand Million - 10^9
10,000,000,000 - Ten Thousand Million - 10^10
100,000,000,000 - One Hundred Thousand Million - 10^11
1,000,000,000,000 - One Billion - 10^12

As confusing as this may sound, it actually makes perfect sense.

The word Million comes from the word Millione which was used to say "Many thousands".  We already know that the word "Bi" is used for two and the word Tri is used for 3 and so on.

So, wouldn't it really make more sense for the word Billion to be a Million Millions rather than a Thousand Millions?  Then a Trillion would be a Million Million Million or a Million Billions?

I guess I will have to add the "Short Scale" to the list of Units Americans have messed up, right there with Miles, Yards, Feet, Pounds and Fahrenheit.

Javier Torres
AnarchyLive.com


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