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007 - So, Who’s Right?

Jack:                “Manny, how much is a billion?”

Manny:             “Why do you ask, Jack?”


Jack:                “Well, I have a foreign friend who told me that what we call a billion in the U.S. is really one thousand millions or milliard. He also told me that in the rest of the world, a billion is one million millions. Do you know anything about this?”

Manny:             “Yes, for some reason in the U.S., and now the U.K. and Australia, we do not follow the traditional method of numbering, which goes something like this: units (1), tens (10), hundreds (100), then these units ‘sort of repeat themselves,’ like this: thousands (1,000), tens of thousands (10,000), hundreds of thousands (100,000); then this continues with millions (1,000,000), tens of millions (10,000,000), hundreds of millions (100,000,000), and later, thousands of millions (1,000,000,000), tens of thousands of millions (10,000,000,000), hundreds of thousands of millions (100,000,000,000) and, further on with what you asked, billions (1,000,000,000,000) which have double the amount of zeros when compared to a million, in other words, it is a million millions.”

Jack:                “So, how come we use a One followed by Nine zeros to mean a billion?”

Manny:             “That’s part of the mystery, Jack.”

Jack:                “Mystery? Are there more parts to this mystery, Manny?”

Manny:             “Oh, yes, there are several, for example: We refer to the Philosopher’s Stone as the Sorcerer’s Stone, but nobody else does. In Spanish, they call it piedra filosofal. In German, they refer to it as Stein der Weisen; in Frenh as, la pierre philosophale; in Italian as, la pietra filosofale; in Dutch as, de Steen der Wijzen; in Portuguese, pedra filosofal, in Tagalog, bato ng pilosopo. Nobody else uses ‘sorcerer’ to refer to that stone; well, as far as I know.”

Jack:                “What’s Tagalog?”

Manny:             “That’s a language spoken in the Philippines.”

Jack:                “Oh, it sounded like a game of tag, you know, tag along. Are there other parts?”

Manny:             “Of course, one is the sport of soccer. We are the only ones that call it that, the rest of the world, calls it football and, you know why?”

Jack:                “No, why?”

Manny:             “Because, since it is played with our feet hitting a ball, it should be called football. Just like the game of ‘handball’ that we play by hitting a ball with our hands; or racquetball because we hit the ball with a racquet.”

Jack:                “So, why do we call it soccer?”

Manny:             “Because nobody told us that foot is the singular of feet. We have irregular plurals that are at the very root of our beautiful language, as old as Anglo-Saxon itself. For example, the word ‘children’ is the plural of child; ‘oxen’ is the plural of ox; teeth is the plural of tooth.”

Jack:                “How come nobody told us that?”

Manny:             “Because many of ‘us’ were Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Germans, Norwegians, and Cherokees, and we forgot to ask the English who, by the way, invented the game.

Jack:                “So, do you think we made up that name?”

Manny:             “Apparently, because the British were no longer talking to us on account of our independence from them. You know, they didn’t like the idea of us separating from England and they refused to trade with us for several years. They didn’t even want to sell us books. If fact, that’s when Mr. Noah Webster decided to create his own dictionary and also to change the spelling of certain words, like color instead of colour, favor instead of favour, theater instead of theatre, etc., etc.”

Jack:                “But, we still use ‘glamour,’ and we spell it with a ‘u.’”

Manny:             “That’s because, the pioneers were anything but glamorous and probably didn’t even know the word existed. Or maybe they thought it was a sin. Who knows?”

Jack:                “Well, the question is: Who’s right, them or us?”

Manny:             “We are both right, Jack.”

Jack:                “How so?”

Manny:             “If you are in the United States, you use billion to mean a one followed by nine zeros. If you are in Europe (other than the U.K:), Canada, Latin America, Africa or Asia, you either use one thousand millions or a milliard. If you are in the U.S., you use football. If you are anywhere else, you use ‘American Rugby’ or ‘American Football.’ If you are in the U.S., you use ‘The Sorcerer’s Stone;’ any other country, you use ‘The Philosopher’s Stone.’

Jack:                “Well, someone has to be wrong, Manny.”

Manny:             “No, Jack, there are in fact situations when both parties are right and, of course, there are situations when both parties are wrong. But, we don’t like to talk about them.


Text and illustrations © Jacob A. J. Taylor 2013

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