What comes after trillion? - Trillion in the UK?

  • Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    In the UK a billion is a million million except when referring to money where the use of 1000 million to mean a billion has, I believe, become universally accepted.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    George W. who was talking about new troubles in the "credit crunch" crisis with two important American financial institutions used the word trillion. I checked in WRF English Definitions to check how much he meant and was told it was "a million million (1,000,000,000,000)". However there was the additional remark:...in England they call a trillion a billion" .
    Now, I remember that maybe about fifty years ago that in British financial circles one started talking about "an American billion" to mean 1,000,000,000 because hitherto a British billion had, indeed, meant a million million. But gradually the qualification "American" was dropped in financial bulletins, so I wonder if the WRF remark is still valid. However, I do not recall any Englishmen talking about a trilllion unless they were quoting an American, and I suspect that many in the UK have no clear idea how much that is. Clarification please.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Correct, Mr.A ~ I have no idea how much a trillion is. I have got used to billion meaning 1,000,000,000 rather than 1,000,000,000,000, though.
     
    Last edited:

    mtmjr

    Senior Member
    English (US)
    I don't know if it's just a European thing, but I know in French they say:

    100 = cent
    1,000 = mille
    1,000,000 = million
    1,000,000,000 = milliard
    1,000,000,000,000 = billion

    Maybe this rubbed off onto BE?

    Oh, and ewie, when your country is close to $10 trillion in debt, you start to think about it more often...
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'd say a trillion was a thousand billion, by which I mean a 1 followed by twelve zeros.

    In the terms of this Wiki link, that makes me 'Modern British' rather than 'Traditional British'.

    I rather like that.
     

    Full Tilt Boogie

    Senior Member
    British English
    To me in AE:

    100 = one hundred
    1,000 = one thousand
    1,000,000 = one million
    1,000,000,000 = one billion
    1,000,000,000,000 = one trillion


    The OED would have trillion rendered thus Trillion.

    That said, with the all pervasive US Dollar being the global currency, we (the rest of the English-speaking world) have latterly taken to accepting/using the US version of both billion and trillion when referring to money matters (i.e. debt, loans, finances etc.), whereas the scientific and mathematical community still adhere to the true granularity of these numbers (i.e. 10 to the power of 'X').
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The OED entry for trillion includes this charming quotation:
    The terms billion, trillion, quadrillion, etc., up to nonillion, are explained by N. Chuquet, in his Triparty de la Science des Nombres (lf. 2r) printed in Bullettino di Bibliografia e di Storia delle Scienze Matematiche XIII. 593 (Roma 1880); also in the Arismetique of Ét. de la Roche, 1520. Both of these early writers explain billion, trillion, etc. as successive powers of a million, the trillion being the third power of a million, ‘a million of millions of millions’, as formerly always used in England. According to Littré, it was only in the middle of the 17th c. that the ‘erroneous’ custom was established of dividing series of figures above a million into groups of three, and calling a thousand millions a billion, and a million millions a trillion, an entire perversion of the nomenclature of Chuquet and De la Roche.
     
    In BE it used to be that a billion was a million million, and a trillion was a billion billion.

    However about 25 years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer (= the British Finance Secretary) announced in Parliament that from then on a billion would mean a thousand million, as in the USA. I don't know if the same change occurred for a trillion.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    It seems to me, KevinB, that in the UK our belovèd BBC (& co.) avoid any -illion word bigger than billion, preferring to use such things as a thousand billion, a billion billion, etc.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    How numerous have been these excellent replies in such a short space of time!
    And I suppose a zillion is just American kids' slang for a helluva lot.

    If I heard correctly, it now costs a billion Zimbabwean dollars to buy a loaf of bread in Harare - that is if you can find a loaf of bread to buy.

    Btw, Wikipedia says:
    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 applies the short scale.
    So it was 34 years ago not 25 that the UK made the official change, though there had been talk of the American billion for many years before.
     
    Last edited:

    silentspring

    Member
    bilingual:English (UK - Scotland)- Italian
    In BE it used to be that a billion was a million million, and a trillion was a billion billion.

    However about 25 years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer (= the British Finance Secretary) announced in Parliament that from then on a billion would mean a thousand million, as in the USA. I don't know if the same change occurred for a trillion.

    Hello, the Chancellor of the Exchequer did quote a sensible thing. But do the British know about it?
    My 2007 Italian-English dictionary still says that a billion is 'un miliardo' in AE, while it is 'mille miliardi' in BE. Is it a mistake, or is the word 'billion' still commonly used with different meanings in AE and BE?
    Silentspring

    Live and learn
     

    Waylink

    Senior Member
    English (British)
    In the UK a billion is a million million except when referring to money where the use of 1000 million to mean a billion has, I believe, become universally accepted.

    I don't quite agree with the first part of the above; in fact, I think it is a very misleading statement.

    The Collins Cobuild dictionary is quite explicit and unequivocal
    "A billion is a thousand million."

    ~~~~~

    Historically, a billion in Britain was a million million. This was of course different from the American usage of a billion being a thousand million.

    With the rise of global communications and the increasing use of large numbers regarding finance, economics, population, etc, the contradiction became more and more apparent and awkward.

    Nowadays in the UK, billion means thousand million in all contexts where a specific numerical value is being indicated such as:

    The population of China is 1.3 billion.

    Note that generally the plural of billion is billion (without an [s]):
    The population is expected to grow to 2 billion over the next ... years

    Incidentally, expressions like "There were billions of flies everywhere" simply mean a very large number or quantity - not that someone has actually counted them (!) or even made a realistic estimate.
     

    answerer

    New Member
    English
    Okay, there's "million", "billion" and "trillion", what comes after "trillion"?
    million, billion, trillion, quadrillion, pentillion, hexillion, heptillion/septillion, octillion, nonillion, hendillion, hendillion, dodecillion, triskillion, thekillion, pentakillion
     
    Top