If even the Beeb is going to use the US definition of a billion (10^9), instead of the UK one (10^12), the least they could do is not use poor old Blighty for their example.
The BBC's improbable units department was in fine form last week when it decided to quantify the land area of the United Kingdom in doormats. In this illuminating piece on just how may noughts a trillion has, Auntie notes that Blighty's 244,820 sq km area is the equivalent of 1,000,000,000,000 doormats, based on a standard …
The British government started using billion = 10**9 around then, but the correct definition is the one that correctly describes all usage of the word, not just government usage.
The trouble is that people for whom billion = 10**12 don't in practice have many opportunities to use the word, and in the few cases where they could use it they tend not to in order to avoid confusion, so the 10**12 sense of billion is very hard to detect just by observing usage.
My personal opinion is that everyone should stop using the word. In particular, any sum of money relating to the whole country should be expressed in terms of so many pounds per inhabitant. That way there would be a vague chance that a reasonable proportion of the population might have some sort of intuitive feel for what the figures actually mean.
@Phil You make it sound as if this is news to you. When you hear that the country is losing 3 billion a week you do know that they mean 10^9 not 10^12?
If not I have some really good news for you. The national debt, usually expressed in trillions, is a million times smaller than you thought!
SI prefixes with:short scale / long scale names
10^6 - mega - Million / Million
10^9 - giga - Billion / Milliard
10-12 - tera - Trillion / Billion
10^15 - peta - Quadrillion / Billiard
10^18 - exa - Quintillion / Trillion
10^21 - xetta - Sextillion / Trilliard
10^24 - yotta - Septillion / Quadrillion
Note that the short form bears little relation to the power of 10, e.g. Septillion is 10^24 but 24 isn't 7 times any integer, whereas 24 is 6 (million) times 4 - hence Quadrillion. Simples.
However the short form is more universally used as the world isn't run by techies but by Marketing and PR (e.g. D.Cameron).
This also explains a lot about the world today...
... that with embracing the american way, the short scale, claiming it's the more modern way to boot. Their world just got a few noughts smaller, eh. Fitting for short bus specials, I say.
Me, I stick to a good game and keep the milliards, billiards, and trilliards.
"Some people still think a billion is a million-million, which is really a trillion, and they think a trillion iis something else"
That sounds a little snitty - and is not strictly correct - we only seemed to quasi-officially starting using short scale measurements in government in the mid-seventies, and some of us still lapse back to long scale measures (at least in part) except in technical documents.
> Some people still think a billion is a ....
Only if you rely on a superficial bout of Googling and swallow the first definition you stumble across. In the UK a billion has universally and unambiguously meant 10**9 since the 1970's. So no, there aren't any "some people" any more (and probably haven't been any for decades), just like there aren't "some people who think" .. Britain still uses pounds, shillings and pence.