Saturday June 15, 2002
In the strip above, Kevyn casually drops the number a nonillion, which to him means "a one followed by thirty zeroes." Many of you may not be aware, however, that a nice, specific number like that can actually have more than one meaning. The trouble stems from the fact that a million has six zeroes, and the original (and very sensible) meaning of a billion was "bi-million," which implies twice as many zeroes. Thus many Europeans hear Americans talking about "a billion-dollar aircraft," and wonder how the United States can afford to spend an entire GNP on something that flies quietly and drops bombs accurately, rather than only spending one or two milliard on it (yes, a milliard is a real number). Meanwhile, the scientific community has taken it upon themselves to adopt the American billion, which only has nine zeroes. Why did they adopt the American version, instead of the sensible version? Blame Hollywood. That's what I do, and it's no less useful than blaming someone with an actual conscience.

To add to the confusion, there are many even less specific "-illions" out there, like "a bazillion," which, I've been told, can be as high as 100,000,000 if you're counting jellybeans, and as low as 32 if you're counting, say, gunshot wounds.

Book 2: The Teraport Wars
Part II: A Whole New Can o' Wormgates

Transcript

Narrator:After a hasty session of number-crunching...
Kevyn:Captain, I need to be patched out. We've found something important.
Megiddo:I'll be the judge of that. Speak.
Kevyn:The stabilizer control systems for the stellar-core toroidal singularity that drives the gate-copy system were damaged in the initial assault. Between eighty and ninety hours from now that singularity is going to release about a nonillion kilograms of mass, most of which will likely be expressed as energy.
Megiddo:not worth the call. What else have you got?
Kevyn:Well, we expect a pretty impressive supernova in about four days.
Megiddo:See, that is worth telling the fleet about.