Printable Version
Pronunciation: bil-yên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1000 million. In France and a few other countries—and the UK until recently, it means a million million (= a US trillion).

Notes: Until a few decades ago, a billionaire in the UK was merely a milliardaire and, until you had a trillion pounds in the bank, you were not a billionaire in the UK. The British government converted to the "short scale" or US system in 1974 and today the British press is following suit, though you will still hear milliard for billion in parts of the UK today. (Click here for details.) The adjective for today's word is billionth.

In Play: Today you find inflation everywhere, so wherever we used million in the last millennium, we probably should switch to billion in this one: "Marty Graahe has a billion excuses for putting off work." If we are talking about dollars, this word usually carries its US sense: "Robin Banks was reluctant to explain how he made over a billion dollars in the course of 20 years."

Word History: Today's Good Word came from French billion, a blend of bis "twice, 2nd power" + million. Million seems to have originated in Italian as milione, augmentative of mille "thousand", which is to say, "a large thousand". The augmentative suffix -one is also used in minestrone, padrone, and calzone "pants leg" from calza "sock", something to think about the next time you are ordering Italian. (Today we offer Loren Baldwin a UK billion thanks for spotting this number.)

Dr. Goodword,

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