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They look like numbers. They sound like numbers. You kinda know they are numbers. But they're not actually numbers. Linguistic anthropologist Stephen Chrisomalis explains what's going on with indefinite hyperbolic numerals like 'zillion', 'squillion' and 'kajillion'.
SCADS OF ADDITIONAL MATERIAL:
- Read more from Stephen Chrisomalis about indefinite hyperbolic numerals, and about other numerical linguistic matters.
- How about a supercut of Carl Sagan saying 'billion', 'trillion' and 'million'?
- In case you want to know the proper names for all the big numbers, here they are. And you can build your own -illion numbers.
- Etymology of a thousand = a swollen hundred.
- Here's where PM Harold Wilson swiped left on the old British billion.
- How a 9-year-old coined the terms for whacking great numbers, 'googol' and 'googolplex'.
- Google named itself after googol, but it could have been called...BackRub??!
- A computational model that understands hyperbolic and other nonliteral uses of number words.
- Thanks to bigger debts, we got used to the word 'trillion'. (Remember the creepy science fiction novel Trillions?)
- Damon Runyonese.
- There are fictitious number words in many other languages; which do you use?
- The transcript of this episode is at theallusionist.org/transcripts/zillions.
A bazillion thanks to you if you fill in this year's Radiotopia survey at surveynerds.com/Allusionist. The information you supply helps me make the show more to your liking. The survey is anonymous - it's not a ruse to squeeze you for all your personal data.
THANKS TO TODAY'S SPONSORS:
- BLUE APRON makes it easy for you to cook tasty meals at home from fresh, responsibly sourced ingredients. If you're in the contiguous USA, get your first three meals for free, plus free shipping, at blueapron.com/allusionist.
- SQUARESPACE offers award-winning templates and simple tools with which you can create your website and still have the energy to run your online empire. For a free trial and 10% off your first purchase, visit squarespace.com/allusion.
YOUR RANDOMLY SELECTED WORD FROM THE DICTIONARY:
- Stephen Chrisomalis is a linguistic anthropologist at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He has been collecting rare words since 1996 at phrontistery.info.
- This episode was produced by me; the music is by Martin Austwick.
- Find me at facebook.com/allusionistshow, twitter.com/allusionistshow, twitter.com/helenzaltzman and instagram.com/helenzaltzman - and, hopefully not performing just for my parents, at this year's London Podcast Festival.