Expressions with Number Variation

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Fri Sep 14 00:20:26 UTC 2012

I have a recollection of the top-money question on Pyramid ( as yielding something like, "That's the $10,000 question," but I think that's completely given way to "million-dollar question."

I was going to claim that inflation has stopped there, but Googling reveals that I'm out of touch as "billion-dollar question" gets 1.1 million raw Googits.

However, just looking at the top few hits, it seems that billion-dollar question (and trillion-) refer to issues where a X billion (or trillion) dollars are at stake. Googling further, I find a minor number of hits all the way through decillion, with "nonillion" missing. There seems to be a block that prevents people from using that number, perhaps because we have octopuses and decathlons but not nonopuses or nonathlons. 

Benjamin Barrett
Seattle, WA 

On Sep 13, 2012, at 4:59 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU> wrote:

> Well, back in the old days, you could be behind someone 100 per cent, or you could give 100 per cent, and that was it.  Now, it seems wishy-washy unless you give 110 per cent or you're behind them 1000 per cent.  Inflation again.  I'm not sure it ever goes in the other direction.
> LH
> On Sep 13, 2012, at 6:40 PM, Dave Wilton wrote:
>> There's "Eskimos have ## words for snow." Lots of variability in that one.
>> There's also "seventh heaven" and "third heaven," although these derive from
>> different theological concepts rather than linguistic variability, the seven
>> from Judaism and Islam, and the three from Paul's vision of three heavens.
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
>> Shapiro, Fred
>> Sent: Thursday, September 13, 2012 5:00 PM
>> Subject: Expressions with Number Variation
>> In connection with the discovery that the original formulation of "the whole
>> nine yards" may well have been "the whole six yards," Dave Wilton has
>> pointed out that "there are many examples of phrases with numbers that went
>> through multiple versions with different numerical values before settling on
>> the one that became canonical (e.g., 'cloud nine')."  Can Dave or anyone
>> else give me other examples of this kind of number variation?
>> Fred Shapiro

The American Dialect Society -

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