How much is a Gazillion?

In response to the quote of Doctor Math:
In addition to making sense in the British fashion of upping the name based on how many sets of 6 zeros there are at the end of a number, the same process is used here using sets of 3 zeros, which is also how many zeros we place between each comma in a large number. The U.S. way makes perfect sense.

Link to Staff Report: How much is a gazillion?

I’m actually in the city of Warsaw at the moment, on business, so I couldn’t resist making a math comment (Many of the major contributors to modern mathematics were Polish.)

IMHO, all the naming systems “make sense”, it’s just where (and how often) you wanna name something distinctly. Personally, I think they’re all pretty useless, once you get above a US-billion. How many times do you need to refer to a novillion, anyway?

Also, I’m reminded that Unca Scrooge’s fortune was often calculated in Fantasticillions, Uncountabillions, and similar.
– SDStaff Dex

OK, so the naming makes sense somewhere, but WHEN did it all come about? When in history did we find it necessary to count that high?

Probably when some mathmatician found himself sitting around with ALOT of time on his hands and nothing better to focus his brains on…

The OED’s comments on “billion” may be of interest:

Sir_Al01 said:

For that to work properly, a bi(2)llion would be 1,000,000; a tri(3)llion 1,000,000,000; etc.

I stand corrected. The more I look into it, the less sense the American way of naming the cardinal numbers makes.

Addendum to previous post:
The concept of upping the name with every set of 3 zeros makes perfect sense. It’s the names we have assigned to those sets that make no sense (i.e. “billion” to a 1 followed by 3 sets of 3 zeros, even though “bi” stands for 2, and does not relate to the number it’s assigned to).

On the number of subatomic particles in the known universe: there are an estimated 10^12 galaxies in the known universe; if the Milky Way is an average galaxy, then we can assume that each galaxy contains ~10^11 stars; the Sun, a G2 star, is a prototypical star, having a mass of 210^33 grams; a gram of mass contains 610^23 protons (a gram of neutrons weighs about the same – electrons weigh about 1/1800th of a proton). Multiply all of these together and we find that the universe contains ~10^80 particles. Modern cosmologists assume the universe contains up to 99% dark matter, which, if it is made of the same type of matter as light matter, brings us up to 10^82 particles. If the universe were 100,000,000 times larger than what is observable, we still have only 10^90 particles, well short of a googol. In any case, Cecil’s original reference to “a googol of snowflakes” is clearly an exagerration…

I couldn’t find this reference in my original response, or I woulda surely used it, but Unca Scrooge has “Five billion Quadruplatillion umtuplatillion multuplatillion fantasticatillion centrifugalillion dollars and sixteen cents” in his money bin (Uncle Scrooge #8, Dec 1954) … although other amounts are cited at different times.

I always liked “fantasticatillion.” Carl Barks, we owe you more than we know.

I thought it was just a made up word for ‘a real big number.’ not unlike Cecil saying jillion.

Um, Handy? Try reading the Mailbag article before reading the comments. That’s what we said.

I can’t find any mailbag article on the site unless it’s called something else. May acct for my offremark

Dex’s column:

The Mailbag archives:

Or, at the bottom of this page (and at the bottom of the STRAIGHT DOPE MESSAGE BOARD page that lists the forums) there are two links, one says CONTACT US and the other says STRAIGHT DOPE HOME PAGE. If you follow the link to the STRAIGHT DOPE HOME PAGE and then to the ARCHIVES, you will find Mailbag items… and this particular forum is supposedly a place to respond to those items. Try it, you’ll like it.

I was surprised by the quoted source of the naming information. My mother has the three-volume, Webster’s Third New International Unabridged Dictionary (1979 printing) which contains all of the numbers’ names through centillion except googol.
As a side note, this is the dictionary that Guinness quotes for the longest word in the English language: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Far from a billion letters, but still impressive.


Ha! So much for Merriam-Websters! “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis” is a well-known fraud. There never was such a word, except in dictionaries that didn’t do adequate research.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

In case anyone cares, in Britain we don’t use the “British” system of incrementing our -illions with lots of six zeroes. I believe we did once, but not any more. We use the three zero method just like you guys.

“We did once.”

That’s “once” in the sense of, “Once there were 240 pence in the pound.”

Tree squirrels, tree squirrels…

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

About that dark matter, jrepka. (completely off-topic)
I’ve heard estimates of up to 90% based upon hopes for an Omega value of 1.
Its worth noting, at any rate, that one of the leading candidates (neutrinos) is non baryonic.
Also, the “observable” universe isn’t what’s estimated when counting galaxies.
The size of the universe is fairly well known since it’s age is becoming ever more accurately determined.
Of course, since we’re still only up to .00000000000000000001 of a googol, who’s quibbling about a few powers of ten?

A gazillion is a one followed by umpteen zeroes.

An infinite number of rednecks in an infinite number of pickup trucks shooting an infinite number of shotguns at an infinite number of road signs will eventually produce all the world’s great works of literature in Braille.