1. ## Billion vs. Milliarde?

Whenever I visit my home country of Germany it takes me a while to get used to their use of "Milliarde" for what in English is called "Billion". Or how about a German "Trillion" = 10^12 while the US "Trillion" = 10^18.

It seems that could lead to even more drastic misunderstandings than imperial vs. metric.

Peter

2. That's the so called "long scale" vs "short scale" there. We in the US use the short scale, of course.

The long scale goes as 10^(6n), with million n = 1, billion n = 2, etc. n = 0 is the base, 1, of course. That is, the long scale represents powers of 10^6

The short scale goes 10^3(n + 1), with a million n = 1, unless you want to start counting at kilo = thousand = n = 1, and thus million is n = 2 with 10^3n. The short scale represents powers of 10^3, starting with a million.

The "-illiard" ending comes with a thousand times the previous n, 10^(6n + 3), or half valued n, ie n = 1.5, 2.5 in the first formula.

3. Is there an etymological relation to the word billiard, or is it a coincidence?

4. "Billiard" is from a French word meaning "stick of wood"; I can't find out the etymology of "milliarde." My usual site says that it's "million" with a changed suffix, which is not terribly helpful.

5. Originally Posted by ravens_cry
Is there an etymological relation to the word billiard, or is it a coincidence?
Well, not really coincidence. "-ard" is a common German suffix, which is related to the word "hard." You can also find it in words like "mustard". So it's just "hard thousand," "milliarde." I'm surprised about the etymology that Gillianren gave for "billiard," because "bille" means "marble" in French, so I would have assumed it was related to that.

6. When I was at school in the UK, a billion was a million million, and it started out as that in German as well. I still can't get used to the idea that we seem to have been outvoted.

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Originally Posted by peterkienle
Or how about a German "Trillion" = 10^12 while the US "Trillion" = 10^18.
Whilst many people use trillion only with the colloquial and non-specific meaning "big big many", I think that its use for the specific number 10^18 has not occurred for a long time anywhere, especially in the US where billion was 10^9 before it was in Britain. Thus to the extent it is used to mean a specific number it has long been used to mean 10^12 and only that. I've come across US people saying "quadrillion" for 10^15 and even "quintillion" for 10^18, but such coinages are only used by children in Britain.

8. The United States started using the short scale in the 19th Century, where a trillion is equal to 10^12. According to Wikipedia, the UK switched to the short scale in 1974.

I occasionally hear someone say "quadrillion", but not very often. I don't think I've ever heard anyone using the names for anything larger than that unless it was a kid trying to show off. Most people who would have a use for larger numbers tend to use the scientific notation because it is easier to write, speak, and calculate.

9. I was told long ago that it's safest to say "thousand million" and to avoid the word "billion" in international context.

10. Originally Posted by DonM435
I was told long ago that it's safest to say "thousand million" and to avoid the word "billion" in international context.
We should just switch to SI and be done with it. A billion (or thousand million) can be called a giga-whatever. Instead of a billion years, we'd have a gigayear. No more confusion.
Last edited by primummobile; 2012-Jul-03 at 04:21 PM. Reason: redundancy

11. Originally Posted by peterkienle
Whenever I visit my home country of Germany it takes me a while to get used to their use of "Milliarde" for what in English is called "Billion". Or how about a German "Trillion" = 10^12 while the US "Trillion" = 10^18.

It seems that could lead to even more drastic misunderstandings than imperial vs. metric.

Peter
Someone did mention it above, but just to make it very clear: A US Trillion is 10^12, not 10^18. 10^18 would be a "Quintillion", with a "Quadrillion" at 10^15 in between.

12. For what it's worth, here's a long vs. short scale comparison for the first few n:

short long exponent
million million 10^6
billion milliard 10^9
trillion billion 10^12
quintillion trillion 10^18
sextillion trilliard 10^21

Which illustrated the progression. The short scale is 10^3(n + 1), with a billion being a thousand million, a trillion being a thousand billion, etc. The long scale is 10^6n, with a billion being a million million, a trillion being a million billion, etc, and the 'illiard" being a thousand times the previous, which is equivalent to allowing a half valued n's. That is a miliard is n = 1.5, a billiard is n = 2.5, etc.

It is indeed better, and recommended practice, to just use scientific notation to avoid confusion between the long and short scale versions.

13. Originally Posted by Perikles
When I was at school in the UK, a billion was a million million, and it started out as that in German as well. I still can't get used to the idea that we seem to have been outvoted.
Superpower is as superpower does.

14. our dear Boris, Lord Mayor of London, regularly uses Squillion, well he did yesterday in fuming about now needing a licence to swim in the Thames.

15. Ew. Why would you want to swim in the Thames?

16. Originally Posted by Ivan Viehoff
Whilst many people use trillion only with the colloquial and non-specific meaning "big big many", I think that its use for the specific number 10^18 has not occurred for a long time anywhere, especially in the US where billion was 10^9 before it was in Britain. Thus to the extent it is used to mean a specific number it has long been used to mean 10^12 and only that. I've come across US people saying "quadrillion" for 10^15 and even "quintillion" for 10^18, but such coinages are only used by children in Britain.
Trillion in 10^18 in Denmark where we use the long scale and don't plan on changing.
Billion is 10^12.

If you get away from your anglophone bias you'll find that the long scale is used quite a lot of places.
You might not notice it so much because we're used to translating to the short scale when talking to foreigners.

17. Originally Posted by Jens
Well, not really coincidence. "-ard" is a common German suffix, which is related to the word "hard." You can also find it in words like "mustard". So it's just "hard thousand," "milliarde." I'm surprised about the etymology that Gillianren gave for "billiard," because "bille" means "marble" in French, so I would have assumed it was related to that.
For the different languages I get etymological references to French, not German for milliard.

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Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen
For the different languages I get etymological references to French, not German for milliard.
I would agree with that. I don't speak german, bit i did attend french schools all of my life. Thanks to publius for noting the long scale versus short scale. In french, we use the long scale but bilingual speakers often get confused with the short scale used in english.

I've noticed people on the board using the long scale, after this thread appeared. I'm not happy about this. This is an english board, so we should use the short scale. Random use of the long scale will not add any clarity to your message.

19. Originally Posted by ShinAce
This is an english board, so we should use the short scale. .
If it were a genuine English board, that would not be the case. If you mean English speaking and predominantly American, then I agree.

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I agree that using the short scale when writing to a board using the english language makes the most sense. if for no other reason than the fact that a milliard with English pronunciation sounds corny.

21. Cette une plank anglais?

22. How about "Giglion" for 10^9? Or just "jillion"?

23. Originally Posted by profloater
fuming about now needing a licence to swim in the Thames.
A license? Forget that. I want vaccinations before taking a dip there. Say, 10^9 of them.

Fred

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Originally Posted by Ara Pacis
Superpower is as superpower does.
And sometimes they have good reasons for doing things as they do. I find the short scale more useful than the long scale. As primummobile noted, it's not often that you'll speak of numbers as large as a million million in practice. On the other hand, we do often speak of amounts of money or years in the thousands of millions. The age of the universe is estimated as about 15 thousand million years, for example. In this case, I think it would be best for the long-scale countries to switch to the short-scale (and I'm from one of those countries).

As for specialized fields that need to speak of huge numbers, of course it's best to switch to scientific notation altogether and use numbers instead of words.

25. Originally Posted by Disinfo Agent
And sometimes they have good reasons for doing things as they do. I find the short scale more useful than the long scale. As primummobile noted, it's not often that you'll speak of numbers as large as a million million in practice.
Unless you're in the Black Monday thread where they show up quite often, often as negative numbers.

26. Originally Posted by Disinfo Agent
On the other hand, we do often speak of amounts of money or years in the thousands of millions. The age of the universe is estimated as about 15 thousand million years, for example.
Who's "we". I don't know anyone who talks like that. We always use billion when talking about what others would term a thousand million.

As for specialized fields that need to speak of huge numbers, of course it's best to switch to scientific notation altogether and use numbers instead of words.
In written format, it might help, but in verbal discussions I think it would be confusing. After all, even I sometimes can't remember if 2E100 includes an extra zero from the 10 in "x10100 or not. add to this confusion about whether you're referring to base 10 in decimal or base 10 in binary when talking about computer files and storage. That's one of the reasons I prefer to use billion instead of giga-.

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Originally Posted by Ara Pacis
Who's "we". I don't know anyone who talks like that. We always use billion when talking about what others would term a thousand million.
I wrote "a thousand million" and "a million million" so as to be understood by users of both scales, but I also wrote that I favour the short scale, where the former is called "a billion" and the latter is called "a trillion".

Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen
Unless you're in the Black Monday thread where they show up quite often, often as negative numbers.
So use "trillion", "quatrillion", etc. if you must name such big quantities.

Originally Posted by Ara Pacis
In written format, it might help [...]
In written format, scientific notation is certainly sufficient — and most scientific/technical discussion is done in written format. Anyway, scientific notation can be read aloud, too.

Originally Posted by Ara Pacis
[...] but in verbal discussions I think it would be confusing. After all, even I sometimes can't remember if 2E100 includes an extra zero from the 10 in "x10100 or not.
Why would it contain an extra zero?

Originally Posted by Ara Pacis
add to this confusion about whether you're referring to base 10 in decimal or base 10 in binary when talking about computer files and storage. That's one of the reasons I prefer to use billion instead of giga-.
I don't see how using "billion" instead of "giga" or instead of scientific notation would alleviate your confusion.

28. Originally Posted by Disinfo Agent
I don't see how using "billion" instead of "giga" or instead of scientific notation would alleviate your confusion.
Because Billion is 1,000,000,000 while Giga can be 1,000,000,000 or 1,073,741,824 depending on context, it can even be 976,762,584 if that's more convenient to the hard disk manufacturer.

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As an aside, who says milliarde anyways? In french, it's milliard with the d being silent. Me-lee-the last sound doesn't exist in english. The A is like the ah in father and the R, well, involves vibrating tonsils and larynx. The closest sound to 'ard' in english is probably the sound of disgust, eugh.

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Originally Posted by ShinAce
As an aside, who says milliarde anyways? In french, it's milliard with the d being silent. Me-lee-the last sound doesn't exist in english. The A is like the ah in father and the R, well, involves vibrating tonsils and larynx. The closest sound to 'ard' in english is probably the sound of disgust, eugh.
Norwegians and Sweedes and i believe some Danes(correct me if I'm wrong on this would you dear southern neighbours) say it with the d sound at the end of milliard.
altho in Norwegian it is pronounced more like Milli-ard. with the ar in ard sounding a lot like ar of argh and ending in a straight d sound.