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Number notation

The United States does not use the metric system. But this is not the only confusing difference between the USA and Europe.

The hierarchy of numbers is universal: million, (milliard), billion, trillion, quadrillion, quintillion, sextillion, septillion, octillion, nonillion, decillion, undecillion, duodecillion, tredecillion, quat(t)uordecillion, uindecillion, sexdecillion, septendecillion, octodecillion, novemdecillion, vigintillion.

In the American system of notation (the short scale), each number is a thousand times the preceding number. Thus, one billion is a thousand times one million and one trillion is a thousand billions. Yet, in the (erstwhile) English, French, and German system (the long scale), each number is a MILLION times the preceding one! Thus, while a vigintillion is written as a 1 followed by 63 zeros by the Americans – it is followed by no less than 120 zeros in Germany!

To exacerbate matters, decimals are written in the form 1.23 in the United States, 1·23 in the United Kingdom, and 1,23 in continental Europe. Thus $14,100 is 14 thousand US dollars in the United States but only 14 dollars and ten cents in Austria.

The United Kingdom reverted to the short scale (American system) in 1974 and other English-speaking countries followed shortly afterward.

To be a billionaire in a country using the short scale number notation you have to have one thousand million units of currency. To be a billionaire in a country using the long scale you need to have a million times a million units of currency. Forbes lists some one thousand billionaires in the (short scale) world. There are no billionaires under the long scale system.

Hierarchy of Numbers

U.S. Metric Association

Original article by Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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