billion, trillion (-illion)

The meaning of billion and other large numbers may depend on the country in which they are used or, more probably these days, the age of the writing in which they appear. The original meanings were easy to decipher, following the bi, tri, quad sequence (2, 3, 4, etc) that is found in other words (bilingual, tricycle, quadruped, etc). Thus billion was 2 millions multiplied or 1 000 0002 (1012), trillion meant 1 000 0003 (1018), quadrillion meant 1 000 0004 (1024), and so on. European scientists began to change this by a factor of 10, and Americans followed, so that 1 billion became 1 000 000 000 1000 million, or 109), and the rest of the sequence was similarly changed to 1012 and 1018. Today, 1 billion is taken to mean 1000 million (109), but its meaning may be ambiguous where it is encountered in writing from the past. Some scientists and communicators, especially when their audience is likely to be international, prefer to use the explicit 1 thousand million or 1 million million to make their meaning unambiguous. See also Numbers and units

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