Long scale versus short scale

December 11, 2007 at 4:04 am | Posted in Confusion, Conversions, Economics, Geography, History, International, Numbers, Scales | Leave a comment

A note on conversions of large numbers between countries.

Most European countries continue to use the long scale, i.e. 106, 1012, 1018, … for million, billion, trillion, …

America popularised the use of short scale, i.e. 106, 109, 1012, … for million, billion, trillion, …

Britain used long scale for centuries until, back in the ‘Seventies, we converted to the short scale for official documents and in public media. Other English-speaking countries followed Britain’s lead. So now the naming systems for numbers above a million are, in fact, the same in the US and the UK as well as in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa …

Wiki explains which countries follow short and long scale systems here.

5,5 Billionen Euro written in a German report = 5.5 trillion Euro written in current day English for both American and British readers. It is much easier to deal with powers of ten (in this example 1012) to clarify negotiations that involve calculations and estimates of cost for the two scales once you are past the million mark!

The confusion in your particular example arises because of the use of Mrd. and Bill., I think, Eli. Steve’s remark is correct.

Mrd. = Milliarden = 109 = billion

Bill. = Billionen = 1012 = trillion

So reichen die Schadensschätzungen des „größten anzunehmenden Unfalls“ in einem deutschen Atomkraftwerk von 500 Mrd. bis zu fünf Bill. Euro. In ähnlichen Bandbreiten bewegen sich die Angaben zur Eintrittswahrscheinlichkeit.

Translated into English, suitable for American and British readers amongst others, is:

The damage estimates of the “most likely accident” in a German nuclear power plant range from 500 billion {500 x 109} Euro up to five trillion {5 x 1012} Euro. Such a wide range is typical for other issues.

P.S. It makes sense to avoid the use of ‘Bill.’ as an abbreviation, even for German Billionen, since it has other meanings, especially for Americans and in an economics context 😉


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