Today I was idly wondering if there was any prefix for ten thousand, the way kilo- is the prefix for one thousand. Ah, Google, I love ya. In seconds I was on a page showing the accepted SI unit prefixes. I read that back in 1991 they decided they needed bigger numbers, so the prefixes could be applied in more areas. I had known exa-, but beyond that there is zetta- and yotta-.
So that got me to thinking, and we know nothing good can come of that. I like yotta- (1024 or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000), but pretty soon your mobile phone is going to have a YB of RAM. (Actually, it will have a yobibyte (YiB) of RAM, but the principle applies.) Before we know it, we’ll be needing bigger prefixes. To forestall any confusion and economic disruption, I, as a public service, offer to lead the crusade to go on beyond yotta-, much as Dr. Seuss did for the alphabet in his ground-breaking work On Beyond Zebra.
You don’t have to thank me; it’s what I do.
To begin the discussion, I offer the following suggestions for the next prefixes:
- lotta- 1027 – (abbreviation: L) this number is especially significant when you are ordering at lottaburger
- holotta- 1030 – (abbreviation: HL)
- messa- 1033 – (abbreviation: Me) as in “I want one messapotato.” (abbreviated 1 MeTater)
- homessa- 1036 – (abbreviation: HMe)
- yottayottayotta- 1072 – (abbreviation: YYY)
I invite the scientific community to participate as well, and include suggestions in the comments for this episode.
Is there any hope of defining a prefix that is as big as we will ever need? For instance, is there any point in defining number prefixes beyond the number of particles in the universe? (Last I heard, the estimate was somewhere around 1084.) For that number, I propose alla-, so you could say, the universe contains one allaparticle. (Later, if more particles turn up in some dusty backwater of the universe, we would have to decide whether to change the definition of alla- or just say, “The universe contains two allaparticles.”
Finally, the reason I was looking up any of this stuff: visitor 40009 will be the myennial office holder. It’s not officially sanctioned by the SI, but neither am I.