The long and the short of the British billion / thousand million

If you pay attention to such things, at some point in your life you’ve probably heard a speaker of British English use the phrase “thousand million” (or perhaps you’ve seen it in print). If you’ve had someone willing to translate, or you’ve been able to look it up, you might have been informed that in the US we say “billion” for a one followed by nine zeroes (1,000,000,000; known to its scientifically inclined friends as 109), but that in the UK and most other countries of the Commonwealth they call this a “thousand million.” In the UK “billion” is reserved for a one with twelve zeroes (1,000,000,000,000; 1012) — which in the US we’d call a “trillion.”

Dr. Evil wouldn't have asked for "one thousand million" dollars!

Dr. Evil wouldn’t have asked for “one thousand million” dollars!

It turns out that, according to standard usage, this is wrong: we should use the same terminology, regardless of which flavor of English we’re using or on which side of the Atlantic we’re standing — and the correct variation is the one described as “American” above.

Click to understand why, once again, the Americans are correct

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Riffle vs. Rifle: Is this one all shot to pieces?

Running across constructions like these is fairly common:

He rifled the pages until he came to the entry on 15th century firearms.
She rifled through the desk looking for the incriminating file.
He rifled through her purse, but couldn’t find the keys.

Using this word — rifled — to indicate a quick, often frantic or furtive, search through something seems to be a popular choice. It’s a colorful and more intense synonym for “searched” that writers often reach for.

However, it’s problematic. In some situations, the word rifled is the correct one. But in others, the better choice is riffled (with two f‘s). One f or two? How do you know which to choose, and does it really matter?

To riffle or rifle through this post, click here

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Great Gazumping Ghosts!

The best phrase to cross my radar recently?

ghost gazumping

While it’s not likely to make any word of the year lists, it struck me as a wonderful combination of sounds, and definitely a phrase worth bringing some attention to. It’s also one of those phrases that comes close to sounding like what it means.

Click for ghosts and gazumping!

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This error nearly gave me an allergic reaction!

Honestly, dear reader: I don’t read books just to see what kind of copyediting errors have slipped through. In fact, I never pick up a book with the intent of looking for errors.

But I can’t help it that my eyes and brain have become tuned to detect print errors — it’s an occupational hazard, the same way that I imagine a professional violinist will hear each off stroke of the bow in a concert, or that a skilled seamstress will notice a dropped stitch in a dress at a glance.

Click to see what he’s going on about this time

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In any language, spam is spam. But with Google Translate, it’s poetry!

I don’t get a lot of spam comments on this blog. WordPress is pretty good at filtering them out. Judging by the available stats, they deflect somewhere between 50 and 250 spam comment posts for me, per day.

Still, a rare few slip through…for every 400 or so posts that they block, one is clever enough to get past the filter. And for every 10,000, there’s that one that’s just some crazy kind of genius in it’s own right.

Click for something related to poetry

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