This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Nuts and Bolts: zetta-

The universe is getting bigger. It really is, literally: everything is still rushing outwards from the place where the Big Bang occurred.

(Though I'm not sure the Big Bang can be said to have existed in a place.) 

Anyway, one of the results of everything's getting bigger is that we have run out of words. One of my daughters, when small, used to count one-two-three-four-five-lots, but most of us need hundreds, thousands, millions, billions and even (when it comes, to debt, usually) trillions.

Zetta- means lots. In fact, lots and lots and lots. It describes a sextillion, in fact, which has twenty one noughts when you write it in numbers.

There are zettahertz, ZHz, which are a sextillion hertz, and zettabytes, ZB, which are a sextillion bytes of computerised information.

You can have zettagrams, zettalitres, and zettametres

To give you some idea how many lots this is, all the seawater on Earth is less than one and a half zettalitres, and according to some estimates the Milky Way may be less than a zettametre wide. 

Even zettabytes, describing units of computer information, look fairly modest in zetta- numbers. In 2013 all the digital information generated in the world was only expected to reach about 4 zettabytes.

The thought of all that counting is slightly appalling. 

So on the whole, I might fall back on lots.

Word To Use Today If You're Feeling Strong Enough: one beginning with zetta- . This prefix was added to the SI International system of Units in 1991. It has the symbol Z. It's to do with the Latin word septem, which mean seven, except that the words has been changed a bit, probably to make it look cooler. (Zetta- is something multiplied by a-thousand-to-the-power-of-seven.) 

Amusingly, although Zeta is the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet, used as a numeral it means seven.

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