duotrigintillion / sexdecilliard / triacontatrillion

Since I’m currently writing a program that deals with a lot of numbers, I’ve decided to write a post about some interesting numbers today. 🙂

Unbelievably enough, the words duotrigintillion, sexdecilliard, and triacontatrillion can actually all mean the exact same thing. They’re all words that mean this number: 1099 (that’s the same as a tenth of a googol)!

Why must we have a word for this specific number, when we could, much more simply, write 1099? I don’t know the answer to that, but I CAN tell you why there are three different words for the same value. 😛

In English, we name large numbers (n) with the suffix -illion. Billion and trillion use the Latin prefixes bi- (n = 2) and tri- (n = 3). Continuing this pattern, we build new words using the formula 103n+3.

In Europe, the same names are used, but for the pattern 106n.

The most common example of this difference is probably the number 109. In English, the word is billion, where as in European languages, it would be milliard (and billion would actually mean 1012).

This all rather put me in mind of another misunderstanding about numbers. George Bush was (allegedly) informed during the Iraq war that three Brazilian soldiers had been killed. “Oh my God!” he said “That’s terrible. Remind me again – just how many is a Brazilian?”

David Elliott, Sheffield, UK

Both of these systems actually stem from French. The “European” system was invented in the 15th century and the “American” system came approximately 200 years after that. In the 1600’s, the “American” system was prevalent in America as well as France, with Britain and Germany using the “European” system. Then, in 1948, France reverted back to the “European” system and America stayed where it was. Furthermore, in 1974, Britain decided to move to the “American” system. The result is now pure confusion for all parties involved.

It’s been suggested that instead of using the Latin-based systems, we use a Greek-based system instead, which is how the word triacontatrillion is derived. I don’t know about anyone else, but it seems like this would just makes things even worse. 😛

Want to read more about other uncommon words? 🙂 See the Interesting Words page.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Guardian


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