People Who Don't Know What A Billion Is

I was watching the Wright Stuff this morning and the far-Left ex-soap actor Mark Little when reviewing the papers asked what a billion was, enquiring if it was a thousand million. Matt the Left-wing host, said it was a hundred million. Christine Hamilton said it was certainly a lot of money. A female Labour MP didn’t add anything to speak of (but may have muttered it’s a lot).

Would you expect these people to know what a billion is? At least the host who has been doing the job for 15 years and the politician.

This sounds British. Are we talking about a metric billion?

A billion, as in 1,000,000,000. So that if you had 999 million you’d be almost to the magic number.

This is not a joke, but a for-real distinction. Used to be that what Americans called a “billion” the British called a “Milliard”, and they used “billion” for what Americans called a “trillion”.

But we’ve converted them to our way of speaking (now we have to work on “aluminium” and “zed”)

To be fair, the word “billion” has traditionally had different meanings in the British Isles and America (though I think the American usage has now mostly become the worldwide standard).

But it’s never meant a hundred million, in any dialect.

This is not true everywhere. In some countries a billion is 1,000,000,000,000 (what we would call a trillion).

Wait til you get to India and they start talking (in perfect English) about lakhs and crores.

One lakh = 100,000. One crore =100 lakh = 10,000,000. Usually rupees, but can be for any countable.

My favorite illustration of a billion was in a line from Dennis Miller on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update:

“The People’s Republic of China has just announced that their population has reached one billion people. To give you an idea of how many people that is…if you’re a one-in-a-million kind of person, that means there’s a thousand of you walking around out there.”

If we ever needed Carl Sagan, now is the time! :smiley:

Because of the “Billions and Billions” thing, my wife’s friends used to refer to any large number as a “Sagan”.
There’s a problem, though – Sagan himself says he never said that famous “billions and billions” line:
Although see here:

I remember reading an article by Sagan in which he was describing a large number of something or other, atoms or galaxies or some immense amount. He wrote, and I’m paraphrasing from memory:

Point of clarification: where billion meant 10^12, did trillion mean 10^15 or 10^18? Was there a word billiard for 10^15? Or just for a kind of pool? Just curious.

And, to continue the confusion, “10,000,000” would be written as “1,00,00,000” in the Indian system. Really confused the heck out of me the first few times I read the local English language papers there.

A British trillion used to mean 10[sup]18[/sup], or the equivalent of a quadrillion in the US.

In other European languages (at least in French, and it looks like it might be an obselete usage in English), yes, 10^15 was billiard, and 10^21 was trilliard, and so on.

Just a reminder, my question is: Would you expect these people to know what a billion is?

The only one I would expect to know - and here by “expect to know” I mean “it sure would be nice if they knew” - is the MP; it would be disconcerting to have someone in office tinkering with the economy of the nation without really understanding how big a billion pounds is compared to the average working person’s salary.

The others are actors and entertainers, so I’m not terribly shocked that they’re innumerate.

Yes. Even the actors and entertainers. I would expect a grade school child to know what a billion is.

When watching astronomy documentaries hosted by Brits, I’ve noticed they prefer to say “thousand million” over “billion.”

Is a billion more than a fuckton?