Math CentralQuandaries & Queries


Question from julio, a parent:

shouldn't the thousands of millions, tens of thousands of millions, and hundreds of thousands of millions be called what they are? technically they are not billions because billions come after 999,999,999,999 . It would sound better to call the numbers by their real name when economists talk about the national deficit besides mathematics is a very precise science that doesn't admit mistakes. Or am I wrong? I know that in other countries is expressed different than here. I have this question to different people and nobody has a "logical" explanation to it. " that's the way is here in the US" does not explain any thing


I have done a little research on your question and learned some facts I didn't know. In 1997 I responded to a question about the meaning of the word billion with a note titled Billions and More! In it I gave the the American and British meanings of the words billions, trillions and more. My reference was Webster's Third New International Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Co., Springfield, Mass. 1967. In my research to respond to your question I learned that in 1974, the government of the UK switched to the terminology used in America. This same Wikipedia article explains that the two systems come from the French, one being the short scale, the terms used in the US and the long scale, the terms used in the UK before 1974.

I agree that the long scale is nicer. There is a discussion you might like to read in an answer to a question similar to yours on the Math Forum. In it are some suggestions as to why the British government decided to switch to the short scale.

Thanks for the question,

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