'Billions' Means Something Different For Americans and Brits And I'm Stunned

This is what I get for learning about numbers from Mean Girls.

Remember the original Mean Girls? Right, well, it turns out that for 20 years now, I’ve based everything I know about numbers on a line from that film. Which wasn’t accurate. So that’s cool and I’m definitely not ashamed of myself.

In the film, Cady is asked by Janis and Damian why she is taking calculus and she said that she likes math because, “it’s the same in every country”. Damian then calls this sentiment beautiful, which it is, and it moved me too but it turns out that when it comes to the definition of billions... it’s wrong.

Suffice to say, I am beside myself.

The difference between US and UK definitions of billions

Now, who better to explain the differences in definition than the Statistical Literacy Guide, which said:

“In official UK statistics the term is now used to denote 1 thousand million – 1,000,000,000. Historically, however, in the UK the term billion meant 1 million million – 1,000,000,000,000 - but in the United States the term was used to refer to 1 thousand million.”

“The US value had, however, become increasingly used in Britain and the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson confirmed in a written reply in 1974
that the meaning of “billion” would be thousand-million, in conformity with international usage.”

It gets even more complex than this, though, as both systems were actually originally from France, as revealed on the podcast The Naked Scientists. In this, maths expert Tim Revell said: “I think in France they also use the same system that we all use now but they created them both and then, for a while, they used both systems but they distinguished between them by calling them the long scale system and the short scale system.”

Brits and Americans disagreeing on something that didn’t belong to either of them in the first place? I am shocked.