Around 1484, Nicolas Chuquet invented several words in French for large numbers. These were billion, trillion, quadrillion, quintillion, sextillion, septillion, octillion, and nonillion, which he used to denote the second through ninth powers of a million. So, a billion was 1012 (or 1,000,000,000,000), and a trillion was 1018.
Around the middle of the 17th century, however, some French arithmeticians started to use these words to instead denote the third through tenth powers of a thousand. This usage eventually became standard in the United States, while the older usage survived in Britain until 1974, when Britain adopted the American usage. So, until 1974, most of the names in the table below stood for different numbers in Britain than they did in America.
|Name of number||Value (U.S.)||Old value (U.K.)|
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The current usage is known as "short scale," while the old British usage is referred to as "long scale."
Until the word "googolplex" began appearing in dictionaries, centillion was the highest lexicographically recognized named number in the English language.
If you're interested in this page, you may also find Greek metric prefixes interesting as well.