Hey, I get it. “Million” and “billion” sound basically the same. When written, they differ by a single letter. Both mean “more dollars than I have at the moment.” On a purely sensory level, swapping them feels like confusing “affect”/“effect” or “allusion”/“illusion,” or Natalie Portman/Keira Knightley. An honest mistake.
And yet . . .
There is no surefire way to avoid the verbal slip-up. I make it myself from time to time. But to drive home the chasm of difference between these two, imagine making similar mistakes on more familiar numbers…
9 thoughts on “Errors No More Egregious Than Confusing “Million” and “Billion””
Since humans tend to infer difference logarithmically, million to billion is is the same as going from 6 to 9*. I can count both those numbers without taking off my shoes so they must be similar.
* – Except in Europe and related jurisdictions where million to billion is exactly like going from 1 to 2.
in Hebrew, we have:
Thousand = 1,000
Million = 1,000,000
Milliard = 1,000,000,000
Trillion = 1,000,000,000,000
Not sure how this came about, but I think it reduces miscommunications.
In Swedish there is:
Miljon: 1 000 000
Miljard: 1 000 000 000
Biljon: 1 000 000 000 000
Triljon: 1 000 000 000 000 000
Conclusion: SI prefixes are the only way to not be confused.
Wrong, triljon is a million biljon. Your triljon is a biljard.
While “million” has consistent usage, larger terms have two different systems: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_and_short_scales
So what I would call a trillion (10^12) long scale users would call a billion.
I think a better comparison to Natalie Portman is Giada de Laurentiis. Good stuff.
In the early days of electronic trading systems, I was out to buy the relatively small amount of $150,000 worth of US Treasury bills. But since bills trade in increments of 1,000, the system would automatically add a comma. So, I committed to buy $150 million. I was unaware of it until Lehman brothers called me to thank me for the trade.
I heard another way using money that seems to boggles peoples minds. If I gave you a crisp $1000 bill and said go out tonight and have a blast I would probably be an epic night with some friends. How tall would a stack of those crisp $1000 dollar bills would it take to equal 1 million dollars? Some guessing… It’s roughly four inches tall. Now how tall for a billion? 333 feet of $1000 dollar bills stacked one on top of the other. What about a trillion dollars? 63 miles. If you walked for 63 miles you could reach down every four inches and pick up a million dollars.