This is correct: in the UK, a billion = 1 million million, hence 12 zeros.
Why? I dunno – just one of those things, I think. Like aluminum/aluminium, the UK standardised on one, the US on another.
Interestingly, we seem to be moving towards the thousand million definition. I seem to remember that several years ago, the Treasury announced that it would be switching to that definition for budgets.
In UK physics the old Billion = Milion million is not used to avoid confusion with US publications. I hope Billion = Million million is obsolescent becoming obsolete in UK, as it makes pronouncing large numbers very confusing. I believe the confusion continues for higher numbers, UK trillion = milion million million = 10[sup]18[/sup] = US Quintillion.
Both those meanings are already obsolete in Britain, not that ‘trillion’ = 10[sup]18[/sup] ever got much use, I imagine. ‘Billion’, most often heard in financial contexts, always means 10[sup]9[/sup]. I can’t remember ever encountering the old usage.
it’s the only example of something that is bigger in England than it is in America
But yes, ‘billion’ in the sense of 10 to the power of 12 seems to have been superceded by 10 to the power of 9, probably because it makes the speaker’s number seem more impressive
For the average Joe listening to the news, none of this matters; any amount equal to or above ($/£)1000,000,000 might as well be described as ‘a shitload’ because it would take actual mental effort to visualise what the amount means, and that never happens.
I had wondered this a couple years ago, myself. I was watching, it may have been parliament, some speaker complaining that the government had spent something like “25 billion” on some social program in the past 10 years and hadnt gotten any benefit from it.
I immediately thought they meant a thousand million, but then I thought "wait, that can’t be right. First of all, dont they use billion to mean a million million (which evidently they dont anymore.) Second, 2.5 billion would seem like nothing in most budgets :))
On the other hand spending 25 million million on anything just seemed ridiculous. Thanks for clearing that up.
As of Harold Wilson’s announcement as PM on December 20th 1974 that the Treasury would be using the American definition.
One influential newspaper’s style guide evidently agrees with the consensus above. Along with such financial cases, the Guardian also uses the American definition for population figures and cosmological ages.