What is a billion?
- In contemporary USA, it is 109
- In contemporary France, it is 1012
- In the UK prior to the early 1970s, it is 1012
- In the UK after the early 1970s, it is 109
- In most European countries, it is 1012
- In 19th C France, it is 109
- In 14th – 18th C France, it is 1012
- It is a modernized spelling of “bymillion”, a word introduced in 1475 by Jehan Adam for a million2. (He also coined the term “trimillion” for a million3, and similar vocabulary for higher powers, vestiges of which remain in our number systems.)
Apparently, a billion is also a wickedly large number of shares of stock to be trading at one time. For if you accidentally hit the “b” key instead of the “m” key at your computer, and thus execute a trade in billions of shares instead of millions of shares, you might cause the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop 9 percent in a matter of moments on a Thursday afternoon. Or so I’ve heard.