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Traditionally a billion in American English means 109 (1,000,000,000, a thousand million) while in British English it means 1012 (a million million) with milliard meaning 109.

Is this still the case or has the world aligned itself to the American way? I'm not a native English speaker and I don't remember hearing or seeing the word milliard recently.

In any case what are the common names of the powers of 10?

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I always assumed it was just so the Americans can say they have more billionaires:-) –  ukayer Oct 28 '10 at 14:48
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3 Answers 3

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Is this still the case or has the world aligned itself to the American way?

At least Britain seems to have largely aligned itself that way. Quoting Wikipedia, which has an excellent entry on the topic (Long and short scales):

[In the UK,] "billion" has meant 109 in most sectors of official published writing for many years now. The UK government, the BBC, and most other broadcast or published mass media, have used the short scale in all contexts since the mid-1970s.

Before the widespread use of "billion" for 109, UK usage generally referred to thousand million rather than milliard. The long scale term "milliard", for 109, is obsolete in British English, though its derivative, "yard", is still used as slang in the London money, foreign exchange and bond markets.

I wouldn't say that the world has done so, however, as the list of long-scale countries is rather long. For example, in Finnish the only word we use for 109 is miljardi, while 1012 is biljoona.

But you could well say that about the English-speaking world which now almost universally uses "billion" for 109, according to that Wikipedia article.

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When I grow up, I want to be a biljoonaire. –  user774 Sep 3 '10 at 21:13
    
This is completely the correct answer. Most times when you hear "billion" in the UK you will assume that it is in short scale, but people often ask if it is "as in a thousand million or a million million?" If you are worried about the value, it is best to say which one you mean. Many people (including me) think that the long scale is a better system, so prefer to use that. I never really say "billion" with any meaning, so it doesn't concern me much. –  James Wood Jul 31 '11 at 16:37
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Ha! you guys want confusion... try Japan. They work in units of 10000. Despite their close ties with America... they haven't gone all American.

  • 百 = 100
  • 千 = 1000
  • 万 = 10000
  • 億 = 1,0000,0000

And so on...

So, you end up with number like 5000万, which is 5000,0000 (or 50,000,000 how we'd write it)

It would be like saying:

  • 1 hundred
  • 1 thousand
  • 1 ten-thousand
  • 10 ten-thousand
  • 100 ten-thousand
  • 1000 ten-thousand
  • 1 billion
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But Japanese people put commas in the same places, i.e. 10,000, 100,000,000, etc. –  delete Sep 2 '10 at 1:26
    
Yeah, I know!!! Strange, Isn't it?! It makes it even harder to read (aloud) in Japanese! You see the 10,000,000 and you think (10 million) but you read it: 1 thousand ten-thousand. (ichi-sen-man) –  Armstrongest Sep 2 '10 at 19:04
    
(1) You should be surprised by the fact that we use a non-English language in Japan in spite of our close ties with USA before being surprised by the fact that we count differently from English. (2) In Japanese, 10^8 is “1億” or “一億,” not “1奥.” (3) In Japanese, 10^7 (一千万) is pronounced as issenman, not ichisenman. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Oct 28 '10 at 16:07
    
Moreover, we do not say “1百” in Japanese except in a special context. The usual Japanese word for 100 is “百.” –  Tsuyoshi Ito Oct 28 '10 at 18:07
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All very interesting, but tangential to the question asked. –  slim Jan 21 '12 at 8:49
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The American usage also includes commas in the numerals.

  • Thousand= 1,000
  • Million= 1,000,000
  • Billion= 1,000,000,000
  • Trillion= 1,000,000,000,000
  • Quadrillion= 1,000,000,000,000,000

  • Kilobytes is 1,000 bytes
  • Megabytes is 1,000,000 bytes or 1,000 kilobytes
  • Gigabytes is 1,000,000,000 bytes or 1,000 megabytes

Use the style best understood by your audience. Also consider what you are enumerating, if it is dollars and miles in the U.S. or pounds and kilometers in the UK.

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A few corrections and suggestions: (1) The use of commas to separate digits in long numbers is commonplace in the English-speaking word. However, in some European countries, periods (.) are used for that, and a comma (,) is used as the decimal point. (2) There is a long-standing dispute over whether a kilobyte is 1000 or 1024 bytes; see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binary_prefix. (3) The UK measures long distances in miles, not kilometres. –  Steve Melnikoff Sep 1 '10 at 10:30
    
He was specifying "American usage" not "English-speaking" usage. No need to downvote. –  Armstrongest Sep 1 '10 at 23:26
    
Saying the American usage makes it seem as it is used only in America (or USA), when it is used also in other countries. There are also two things that are incorrect, as pointed out from Steve Melnikoff. –  kiamlaluno Sep 1 '10 at 23:46
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My intention was not to say that something was used exclusively in America, just the opposite, I was meaning that I can only speak from where I live, which is America. I also did not know that miles were still used in the UK, since kilometers are posted in Canada. Also, I am a she. –  Picturepocket Sep 2 '10 at 13:50
    
So now Canada is the UK? Tsk. –  slim Jan 21 '12 at 8:48
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