billion / a thousand milllions

panjandrum

Lapsed Moderator
English-Ireland (top end)
The February 2007 thread on this topic has been added to the previous merged threads. Those recently arrived may find it helpful to read through the earlier, often less dogmatic, comments on this topic.
Panj
 
  • Hutschi

    Senior Member
    .
    milliard (UK, it is old as LeonTheOutsider says) = trillion (everywhere now)
    Hi, I'm in doubt, that this is true really everywhere.

    In the German language, the general and scientific usage is following:

    1 000 000 = 1 Million
    1 000 000 000 = 1 Milliarde
    1 000 000 000 000 = 1 Billion
    1 000 000 000 000 000 = 1 Billiarde
    1 000 000 000 000 000 000 = 1 Trillion

    (The numbers are written only with spaces to format them.)

    http://www.jimloy.com/math/billion.htm says: The scientific community seems to use the American system.

    I do not think, that the scientific community uses the American system generally.
    As you see, it depends on the country.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    In my experience, in general in the UK the scientific community have started using the American system, whereas outside of it many people persist with the the UK system. Because of all the confusion it is very common for people to say "one billion - an American (or British) billion".
     

    winklepicker

    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    I must be living in a bubble. Everywhere that I see/hear/use a billion it has been 1,000 million, and has been for at least 20 years.

    It just goes to show you can rely on nothing in English!
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    There is a useful series of contributions on this topic in Garuniad Unlimited.
    That article asks the question

    When did 100,000,000 become accepted as a billion over here?

    Surely no one is suggesting that 100,000,000 is a billion anywhere in the world, are they?

    Edit - oh sorry, reading down the page someone points out this error.
     

    carrotcake

    Member
    Japanese
    Thanks all for the great conversation about British billion.

    I just talked with couple of people at work(in many nationalities), and I just ralised that some people use the British billion still, and when they talk about finance at work, they just use the American billion, and sometimes they use it by mentioning they are using "American" billion.

    I confused couple of times when I was using "billion" with British and American at work before. Since I read everyone's view on a "billion" I should just start saying a "British" billion and an "American" billion to avoid confusion. This confusion always happened when I talk about population of anything, I don't know why, but I never had problems when I use billion in Finance, so I believe British English accepted an American "billion" in Finance, but other parts, they still use a British "billion"?
     

    nuri148

    Senior Member
    Argentina, Spanish
    This is one of the biggest mysteries I've encountered while studying languages. We're not talking here about whether a woolen-knitted piece of clothing is a jumper or a sweater, we're talking numbers! there should be no place for confusion, and yet there is LOTS of it.

    In Spanish,
    1.000.000.000 --> mil millones (a thousand million - millardo I've never seen it used, must be a blatant arcaism)
    1.000.000.000.000 ---> un billón (a billion)
    1.000.000.000.000.000 --> mil billones (a thousand billion)
    1.000.000.000.000.000.000 ---> un trillón (a trillion)

    The problem comes when translating this terms to or from English. I didn't know the expression "a thousand millions" existed in English too befor coming across this thread it irks me to no end when I hear spanish-speaking people saying for intance that "there are over a billion people in China" when the correct way in Spanish is "there are over a thousand million people in China".

    Any mathematicians in there?
     

    Juan Carlos Garling

    Senior Member
    Spanish Chile/Argentina
    Hi everyvody.

    I think I don't understand:
    if I write 1.000.000.000 what and English would read? and an American? thank you!

    Dk.
    It is as simple as this :

    One billion in the American standard (increasingly adopted by most countries) is one thousand million = 1.000.000.000

    In the old English standard it is one million millions = 1.000.000.000.000

    So, to make it absolutely clear for everybody, perhaps it may be advisable to choose alternatives if you refer to one billion (in the modern American standard) :
    one thousand millions
    1.000 millions
    1.000.000.000
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    As I understand it, a billion = one thousand million is standard international usage for financial purposes and also for population counts. However, I believe that the scientific community, e.g. astronomers, still consider a billion miles to be a million million miles. Am I right, or has the modern billion superceded in this area too?
     

    Steubler

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Hi everyvody.

    I think I don't understand:
    if I write 1.000.000.000 what and English would read? and an American? thank you!

    Dk.
    I´ll speak for the Americans: In the USA, 1,000,000,000 is a billion. Also, we always use commas to separate powers of a thousand and a dot to separate the unit from the tenth (as in 3,455,234.05).
     

    Steubler

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    As I understand it, a billion = one thousand million is standard international usage for financial purposes and also for population counts. However, I believe that the scientific community, e.g. astronomers, still consider a billion miles to be a million million miles. Am I right, or has the modern billion superceded in this area too?
    A million million in the US has always been a trillion ever since I remember and according to any scientific literature or otherwise that I have ever come across. A billion is a thousand million in the US.
     

    Steubler

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Even in astronomy Steubler?
    Well, now you've got me. As an applied mathematician I read a lot of physics literature, but I don't deal much with astronomy, and I've never come across conflicting definitions of a billion. It's not that I doubt you if you have heard this from some reliable source, but I frankly would be shocked to discover that! Could you point to any source for me, because I'd be interested to know.
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    Unfortunately I can not and do not have the time to go searching just now. However, I have always understood than when astronomers referred to billions, they meant true billions, i.e. million millions. If this is not the case then I have lived my life under an illusion! That's pretty shocking, I might say.
     

    djweaverbeaver

    Senior Member
    NYC
    English Atlanta, GA USA
    Very interesting thread,

    I would just like to point out that both systems were invented in Europe, just like the confusing month/day/year now used in the U.S. versus the day/month/year system used by the Brits and most other people when writing calendrical dates. Now, back to the counting problem. Interestingly enough, both methodologies have a history in France where both systems were used at alternate periods in its history. Well, here's the logic behind the American system:

    1,000=thousand
    1,000,000=million (basically a thousand thousand)
    1,000,000,000=billion (2 sets of zeros after a thousand)
    1,000,000,000,000=trillion (3 sets of zeros after a thousand)
    1,000,000,000,000,000=quadrillion (4 sets " " " " thousand)
    1,000,000,000,000,000,000=quintillion (5 sets " " " " thousand)
    .
    .
    .
    You get the logic by now. Some other interesting numbers:
    10^100 (ten to the hundredth power/to the power of 100)= googol (essentially one followed by a hundred zeros)
    10^10^100= 10googol =googolplex (one followed by a googol zeros).

    Hope this helps you understand our system.
     

    Eigenfunction

    Senior Member
    England - English
    If you look at the etymology of million and billion, you can make arguments for either system being the more logical. (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=million&searchmode=none)
    2 + grand thousand = 2 times as many zeros = 10^12
    or
    2 + grand thousand = grand grand thousand = 10^9

    As has already been said in various ways, in BE, 1 billion was originally 10^12, but in the case of money, we have to a certain extent adopted the American billion, because America is so fond of money.

    However, this does actually leave the British billion somewhat unused, since in science we use Mega, Giga, Terra or 10^n, and there aren't many other places where people will come across such large quantities.
     

    phynaert

    Senior Member
    France - French
    in science we use Mega, Giga, Terra or 10^n, and there aren't many other places where people will come across such large quantities.
    Well, even in this area of "standard" prefixes, there is some room for ambiguity.

    Almost everywhere, kilo = 10^3, mega = 10^6, giga = 10^9, tera = 10^12, peta = 10^15, exa = 10^18 and I don't remember what's next.

    Almost everywhere ... BUT in Information Technologies, where you find binary-based variants : kilo = 2^10 = 1024, mega = 2^20 = 1.048.576, etc.

    How simple.
     

    Eigenfunction

    Senior Member
    England - English
    Well I wouldn't call IT science… :p

    It is worth noting that the binary equivalents are the same order of magnitude as the SI prefixes; There is no factor of 1000 as with the American and British billions.
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    A billion is always 1,000,000,000 (1,000 million), no matter it's in US, UK, or any other part of the world.
    WRONG.
    I have been thinking about this for a few days now and I've asked around and virtually everyone has said to me "in the UK it's a million times a million", but the yanks say it's a thousand million" and that's why there's so many billionnaires over there etc.

    As I understand it, a billion = one thousand million is standard international usage for financial purposes and also for population counts. However, I believe that the scientific community, e.g. astronomers, still consider a billion miles to be a million million miles. Am I right, or has the modern billion superceded in this area too?
    Is this true, because I was thinking about history, I was watching a program about Darwin and the guy kept saying billions and he was English, so I wasn't sure whether he was referring to a sciencey-understanding (American influenced) meaning or the traditional what we English consider to be a billion.

    Anyone a scientist here?
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    WRONG.
    I have been thinking about this for a few days now and I've asked around and virtually everyone has said to me "in the UK it's a million times a million", but the yanks say it's a thousand million" and that's why there's so many billionnaires over there etc....
    I haven't had that conversation for many, many years.

    As marcb pointed out in post #69, the official UK line for decades has been that a billion is a thousand million. That's how billion is used in financial circles, in population estimates (just how many people do Alex's friends think live in China :)).

    It may be taking a while to percolate through the population, but those who routinely use the term use it consistently with the rest of the world.

    If it is really true that people in the UK think of a billion as a million million, they must think there are an awful lot of Scots.
    The allocations will see Scotland's 14 area health Boards and eight special NHS Boards receive around £7.8 billion in 2007-08.
    Health Minister Andy Kerr said:
    "Today's announcement highlights the unprecedented levels of investment we are making in improving Scotland's health. Next year we'll be spending over £2,000 per head on health, compared to less than £1,000 in 1999.
    ... that works out at about 3,900,000,000 Scots.
    If they are all in Scotland at the same time, each Scot has about two square metres - near enough two square yards.
    It's a bit cramped.
    This is from a general press release, not a specialist scientific or financial report.

    Yes of course there are died-in-the-wool old million-million billion fans who will never accept this new-fangled notion, but for all practical purposes, a UK billion is the same as a US billion.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I think a scientist who wished to ensure correct communication would not use the word billion but rather use the powers of 10 e.g. 3.15 x 10^9 and be done with it. They also can do, as Carl Sagan loved to do, use the word in a non-quantitative manner to simply express a "very large number" - in that context, I don't think a Brit saying "billions and billions" would be trying to outdo Sagan :)

    Well, here's the logic behind the American system:

    1,000=thousand
    1,000,000=million (basically a thousand thousand)
    1,000,000,000=billion (2 sets of zeros after a thousand)
    ....
    ....
    1,000,000,000,000,000,000=quintillion (5 sets " " " " thousand)
    I still have trouble quickly figuring out how many zeroes are on the American numbers! To figure out if the number is a quintillion would be determined by seeing how many zeroes there are, dividing by 3 and subtracting one - then seeing the appropriate prefix. Logical, hmmm?:) I liked the British logic more - for every six zeroes there are, the prefix increases by one , 1 a million, a billion, a trillion etc or 1 followed by 6, 12, 18 etc. zeroes The prefix indicates how many times you'd have to say million in a row to get to the answer for a quadrillion, you'd say million 4 times in a row, for quintillion 5 times in a row (i.e a million million million million million). Mmmm, logical :) :)
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Every day I come on here I get more and more surprised, I don't really use billion as a word much (and neither do many others) so maybe that's why it just remains the same meaning, wheras lots of usage referring to 1,000 million might seem normal if used for a long time.

    If it is really true that people in the UK think
    I just can't get over that 'if' ! It's like saying 'if the sky is blue' (in my very humble opinion:))

    But I am the type that really doesn't like to see the American way taking over (center/centre, organize/organise) etc so that might also explain why I've never wanted to accept it as how we should use it.

    Oh well, I won't be needing to use the word much, (I hope I will do!) but I doubt it so for all practical purposes my question has been answered.

    In Germany, a "Billion" is clearly a "Million Million".
    Really?? Ok then it doesn't seem so farfetched and bordering on obselete somewhere! (Anywhere else?)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    It depends on what do you understand on "rest of the world".

    In Germany, a "Billion" is clearly a "Million Million".
    I once spoke German quite well but never used such big numbers:)

    In German, if I recall correctly, 1 000 000 000 would be called a milliard?
    How would 1 000 000 000 000 000 be described - a billiard? So the -illiard would be 1000 x the corresponding -illion?
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    If it is really true that people in the UK think
    I just can't get over that 'if' ! It's like saying 'if the sky is blue' (in my very humble opinion:))
    I make the point that the people who vociferously defend the old British million million billion do not actively think about the issue at all. They respond based on a combination of memory and emotion. They are not billion-users.

    They are surrounded by information that uses the thousand-million billion, and either they understand it correctly and choose to ignore that understanding for the purpose of this kind of discussion, or they don't understand it at all. I am sure there are many of both types.
     

    Redshade

    Banned
    UK
    English.
    milliard

    noun Brit., dated one thousand million; a billion.

    Hi

    Well "clear as mud" then, thanks Oxford.

    In the 70s I went on a basic Introduction to Computers type course.Some of the filmed lectures we were shown were old USAF (the course was being run by a US based firm) training films in black and white and obviously from the 50s in which the term billion was used in the American sense with no mention of any other system.

    However the (again US sourced) 70s text books always had a proviso that one billion was being used in the American way and not the differing UK style.

    I remember learning of the milliard/billion difference at school in the 60s but as such numbers were not in everyday use it was immaterial.

    Nowadays in the UK I doubt if anyone under 40 has heard the word milliard and billion would always be recognised as
    1,000,000,000 with most people unaware that this was an "American" word as opposed to a "British" one.
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm surprised members aren't more aware of the existence of two scales of numbers, the long and the short scale. Here's about the simplest clear explanation I could find. Of course if people don't agree which scale they are using they are likely to be at cross purposes.
    Short scale is the English translation of the French term échelle courte. It refers to a system of numeric names in which every new term greater than million is 1,000 times the previous term: "billion" means "a thousand millions", "trillion" means "a thousand billions", and so on.

    Long scale is the English translation of the French term échelle longue. It refers to a system of numeric names in which every new term greater than million is 1,000,000 times the previous term: "billion" (from bi and million) means "a million to the power of two" or "a million millions", "trillion" (from tri and million) means "a million to the power of three" or "a million billions", and so on.
     
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    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Some further sentences from the Wiki article that TT has linked above are very useful.

    For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the United Kingdom uniformly used the long scale while the United States of America used the short scale, so that usage of the two systems was often referred to as "British" and "American" respectively.
    In 1974 the government of the UK abandoned the long scale, so that the UK now exclusively applies the short scale interpretation in mass media and official usage.
    ...
    The two systems can be a subject of controversy and can arouse emotion. Usage changes can evoke resentment in adherents to the older system, while national differences of any kind can acquire patriotic overtones.
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I'll give it a read panj, I think it described my view of it quite well (but I was born in the 80's, well after the switch over and I wasn't even aware the American scale was 1,000 million until last year.) So I think for a lot of people that are outside the official circles, they either don't know the exact number (in a way you don't need to, you just know it's a helluva lot more than a million.

    So the Germans still use the long scale?
     

    Sabapathy

    Member
    Tamil
    Hi, Folks,

    It is easy.

    for the Americans,

    a 1000,000 ( a thousand thousand ) = million

    a 1000,000,000 ( a thousand million ) = billion.

    and
    according to british usage,

    a 1000,1000 ( a thousand thousand ) = million ( same as american usage.)

    a 1000,000,000,000 ( a million million ) = billion ( this is not same as american usage )

    Hope it is all clear

    - Sabapathy
     
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    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    ...
    The long form (British usage) is used in the most countries.
    ...
    I think it has been demonstrated above that the UK no longer uses the long form in any serious context.
    It is therefore misleading to refer to the long form as "British usage".
    Within English (the scope of this forum), those who use the term billion routinely have been consistently using the short form (1,000,000,000) for decades.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The full OED entries (1989):
    1. orig. and still commonly in Great Britain: A million millions. (= U.S. trillion.)
    2. In U.S., and increasingly in Britain: A thousand millions.
    In this case the New Shorter Oxford English dictionary is misleading. It states: ...
    1 A Million Million, now only in British pop. ... 2 A Thousand Million ...

    ...
    Could you give the rest of the entry at (1) - it's not clear what "British pop" means?

    The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary click uses thousand million for its first two definitions, followed by:
    3 (old-fashioned, BrE) 1 000 000 000 000; one million million

    As has been said, this is language evolution in progress.
    Even if we assume that the SOED entry does not refer to popular music, the definition indicates that by 1993 use of the long billion was limited.
    That seems reasonable to me and reflects the discussion above.
    Both of the older definitions clearly indicate the change in usage.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    It refers to "population".

    billion [IPA-Text] n. & a. L17. [Fr., f. as MILLION by substitution of B I A n. Pl. same w. specified number, -s when indefinite. 1 A million million, 10¹² . Cf. TRILLION. (Now only in British pop. use.) L17. 2 A thousand million, 109 (10 to the ninth potence - I cannot write it); in pl. (without specifying wd), several billions, very large numbers. M19. B adj. After an article, possessive, etc.: a million times a million (now only in British pop. use); a thousand times a million;
    It continues for other usage

    hyperbof. a very great many. After a numeral or quantifier: multiples of a billion. M20.
    The Shorter Ocxford English Dictionary, (1993)
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    For the treatment in dictionaries of the words used for large numbers, you may find this helpful, particularly its table. I can't really quote any of it, because there is so much detail.

    I was interested to see that France went from using the short to the long scale in 1948.

    This gives a list of long and short-scale countries. Very helpful.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Originally Posted by Hutschi
    It depends on what do you understand on "rest of the world".

    In Germany, a "Billion" is clearly a "Million Million".
    And almost everywhere else!
    Except the UK, the USA, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Russia, Turkey, Greece, and some other places given on that list. Those are important exceptions to your suggestion, Agró.

    I was interested to see that some countries use the short scale for some numbers and the long scale for others; that makes life more confusing still.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It refers to "population".
    ....
    On investigation, I suspect that the abbreviation pop. represents popular (that is its meaning in other Oxford dictionaries).

    As indicated elsewhere in this thread, in casual conversation or popular usage, there are some who would if asked say that a billion is a million million.

    Those who use the term seriously mean a thousand million. That includes for example, the BBC. Look for references to billion on the BBC website for confirmation.
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    A billion was 10 to the power of 12 in UK-EN and 10 to the power 9 in the USA.
    I avoid the billion issue by using a thousand million or a million million. This way there is no doubt as to the intention. For disk capacity Giga and Tera suffice. At least on this the UK and US EN versions are in agreement!

    For good communication it may be a good idea not to use billion! But I am whistling in the wind.....

    GF..
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    This gives a list of long and short-scale countries. Very helpful.
    Quoting just a bit of it...
    UK usage

    The term "milliard" is now obsolete in British English, and "billion" has meant nothing except 109 in all published writing for many years now. Both the UK government and the BBC use the short scale exclusively in all contexts. Anyone deliberately using billion to mean 1012 in British English is likely to be misunderstood.​
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    And not reading a lot that has gone before, George, for which you can be forgiven.
    Thomas,

    Thank you for forgiving this rebel.

    GeorgeF..

    PS.. This is rather a hackneyed subject in the English Forum any way. I'm surprised this thread wasn't closed long ago. Who is going to do it?!
     
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