This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.



Sunday, 24 August 2014

Sunday Rest: septillion. Word Not To Use Today.

Zillions? I can cope with zillions.

An English zillion, a North American zillion, a Australian zillion, they're all the same. A zillion is  - well, it's lots and lots, and we all, whether we're talking about the contents of someone else's bank account or the number of ants that have invaded the kitchen, understand it.

But numbers aren't always so straightforward. For a long time billion meant lots and lots in the USA, and lots and lots and lots in Britain.

Nowadays we all seem to have agreed to use the American definition of 1,000,000,000. It makes sense to have done so. We needed a word for a thousand million much more than one for a million million, which was what the old British billion meant.

But septillion...

How big is a septillion?

Again, it depends where you are. North America goes for 1 followed by 24 zeros; Britain, France and Germany go for one followed by 42 zeros.

Now, just to get things straight, a British quadrillion is the same as an American septillion just in the same way that a trillion is the same as an old British billion.

Confused?

So is everyone else.

This means that no one can afford to use septillion. Its use might end up dispatching your plane to Betelgeuse instead of Belgium; or your attempt to start a small mushroom farm might end up covering the whole world in giant white parasols that take no notice of all the puzzled messages from the air traffic control systems on Betelgeuse.

Lots: that'll do for us.

Lots and lots and lots....

Sinday Rest: septillion comes from the French sept, seven. The ending imitates the ending of million.

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