When is a billion not a billion?

When it’s a trillion.

Last year in Berlin, I got into an argument with an Irishman about whether a pint was bigger or smaller than a half liter. I, with much conviction (and a couple of pints in me), argued that it was smaller. He, with equal conviction (and consumption), countered that it was larger. And we got nowhere. Until I discovered that there are in fact two pints: the British pint (20 oz) and the American pint (16 oz).

OK, rookie mistake, temporarily confusing, no big deal. But now I’ve come upon something far more confounding. (And apologies in advance to anyone for whom this is already obvious.)

European leaders are looking to expand their bailout fund to 2 trillion euros. Anticipating future conversations in German in which I’ll be discussing this stuff, I wanted to make sure I had my terminology right, and so I looked up the German translation for “trillion.” There were two entries:

1. Billion

2. Trillion

This was puzzling. Read more of this post

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