What prefix do you use for 1027? If Austin Sendak has his way, it will be hella (also Time article here.) The diameter of the observable universe is about one hellameter. As a fellow member of the club “people from Yreka, CA who do physics,” I strongly support Austin’s idea. Indeed it now tops my list of proposed prefix changes, a list that includes “tiny-” for 10-5 and my former front runner for 1027 “bronto-.”
But the real question is what do we call 10x when we don’t know x? I suggest the prefix “huh”. Examples: “My answer of about 5 huh-people wasn’t good enough to land me a job at McKinsey and Company.” “Einstein calculated that the cosmological constant was about huh inverse seconds squared.”
Another prefix that is needed is to express when you don’t really care what the hell the size is. For this I might suggest “meh.” Example: “The circumference of a African swallow’s leg is about mehmeters, thus rendering it incapable of carrying a coconut.”
Which reminds me. A while back I got a review copy of How Many Licks?: Or, How to Estimate Damn Near Anything by Aaron Santos. Aaron has written a delightful little book on order of magnitude estimations. It’s full of fun little questions (how long would it take you to dig to China using a spoon. Well not very long if you are Chinese!) and then a description of a guess on how to calculate these sizes. He of uncertain principles reviewed the book earlier, and while I agree with the criticisms, I also think perhaps people like the uncertain principlizer and myself aren’t really the best audience for this book. The proper audience, to me, seems to be elementary to high school kids who are just learning the idea that “rate times time equals distance.” Thus I wouldn’t give it as a present to a college age student, but for a young kid who shows some interest in science I think its extremely important to learn how to estimate and to think hard about sizes and what particular numbers really mean, and this book nicely fills this niche.