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A number that is very large (but not infinite) such as 1,000,000,000,000,000 could be called huge, enormous, large, big, gigantic, etc.

A number that is very small such as 0.000000001 could be called little, small, infinitesimal, minuscule, etc.

But what is a word that can describe a number that is large in the negative, such as -1,000,000,000,000,000?

If we were talking about dates, I might use the word early — but is there a term that applies to numbers generically?

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3  
How about mega-nega-number? –  bib Jan 30 '13 at 23:05
5  
Roger, megative on that one. –  Kaz Jan 30 '13 at 23:09
1  
The number -1 is a very large negative number? Good question :) –  coleopterist Jan 31 '13 at 6:29

5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Note that large does not mean large, positive. If a number X is large, then -X is also large. Furthermore -0.00...1 is also infinitesimal.

So, no only isn't there a single word that means large, negative, but, to begin with, there also isn't one which means large, positive!

In computing, the widely used term bignum refers to any one of various data representations for arbitrary precision integers, which are not confined to machine-imposed sizes like 32 or 64 bits. Of course, bignums can be positive or negative. That is another example which shows that big is understood to refer to magnitude, not to positive displacement from zero.

Maybe you can coin some new ones to fill the void, perhaps by portmanteau: posinormous, plusantic, negormous, negantic. These may not be in the English language now, but if you succeed in popularizing them, they will be. They do exhibit English phonology and morphology.

A less radical approach would be to use some standard prefix or suffix: supernegative and superpositive. Even if nobody uses these words, the meaning is clear. In English, we can improvise new words that are not listed in dictionaries, yet which have a more or less self-evident meaning, by combining existing words with standard prefixes and suffixes. For instance, dictionaries do not have to list every single possible word that is formed by [adjective] + ness.

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Very concise. Thanks! –  Matt Johnson Jan 30 '13 at 23:23

Your assumption that large refers to positive numbers of great magnitude is probably more correct than other answers have stated. The notions of large and small numbers derive from counting (and then measuring) and so are implicitly associated in everyday thought and language with positive numbers rather than the real numbers (as a mathematician might claim).

Imagine a "journey" from 3x10^6 to -3x10^6, it is counter-intuitive to claim that at the mid-point numbers stop getting "smaller" and begin to increase again so that the endpoint is as "large" as the beginning. The pure mathematics may be impeccable, but the man-in-the-street knows that is nonsense.

To keep the domains of mathematics and the everyday use of ordinary words in some form of alignment, I suggest that a negative number of great magnitude is one which when multiplied by -1 produces a huge result.

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Ok, but do you have a word to describe such a number? –  Matt Johnson Jan 31 '13 at 13:21
    
As numbers progress from -3,000,000 to +3,000,000, I would say that they uniformly increase, but I would refrain from using the terms "larger" or "smaller" for negative numbers; "higher" and "lower" would be more appropriate, though two word phrases like "most negative" or "least negative" would be least likely to be misinterpreted. –  supercat Feb 9 at 18:01

I have seen such numbers described as very negative or similar. I don't think there's a one-word term used in mathematics for such a number... though I suppose there might be a historical one that's no longer used.

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I'm not sure there is a single word answer here - if couldn't find any when looking.

I would suggest you could use a variant of your first set:

an enormous negative number

or something similar.

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I would generally read the terms "high" and "low" as referring to a number's position on a number line which has positive infinity at the top and negative infinity on the bottom. The prepositions "above" and "below" would refer to positions on such a number line. The terms "larger" and "smaller" refer to magnitude, but should generally only be applied to numbers in contexts where the magnitude of a number is more important than its sign, and e.g. -10,000 would be semantically more similar to +10,000 than to zero. In contexts where it's not obvious that the magnitude is the character of interest, I would suggest that phrases like "gets larger" should be replaced with phrases like "grows in magnitude".

Even though terms "high" and "low" don't really have any particular meaning that would be inconsistent with the number line as described, it may sometimes be a good idea to ensure that the numbers described are recognized as being potentially negative. For example, there may be less risk of misunderstanding if something is described as "rounding toward negative infinity" rather than "rounding to the next lower number". The latter formulation should mean the same as the former, except that someone who is unaware that values may be negative might regard "rounding toward zero" as an acceptable substitute for the latter (it would be, if numbers were always positive), but would be unlikely to make such an assumption in the former usage (which clearly implies that numbers may be negative).

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