Hello, I’m Rob. Welcome to Six Minute English, where we discuss an interesting topic and a zillion items of vocabulary.
Hi, I’m Catherine. Er… Rob. We aren’t going to discuss a zillion items of vocabulary. We’re going to discuss six Rob. We’ve got six minutes.
OK, I just wanted to introduce the word zillion, because that’s what we’re talking about today!
A zillion means a very big number.
But when we talk about a zillion things, we don’t mean an exact number, just a very big one.
Did you know, Rob, that numbers like zillion are called ’indefinite hyperbolic numerals?
Indefinite means vague or without clear limits. And numeral is another word for number.
But can you tell me what ’hyperbolic’ means? Is it…a) endless, b) enormous or c) exaggerated?
Well, I’m going to say… endless. Now can you give us some example of an indefinite… hyperbolic numeral? Please, Catherine.
I tell you what? Why don’t we listen to an expert in the field to find out more?
Stephen Chrisomalis is a Linguistic Anthropologist at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.
And he knows a lot about numbers! See if you can spot a few hyperbolic numerals, Rob!
The smallest indefinite hyperbolic numerals are words like umpteen and umpty and umptisteen and forty-leven. And these are big, indefinite.
But we still have a sense that these are quite small, because of the morphemes -ty and –teen.
Then above that you have the numerals like zillion and jillion and squillion. And those are clearly bigger than a million.
Because most of us know what a million is. And we know that everything less than a million has, you know, some different form.
OK, I heard umpteen and umpty, which end in the morphemes -teen and –ty, like fifteen and fifty. And then there were two more I didn’t catch…
A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in a language. For example, a word or part of a word. So Rob, you didn’t catch umptisteen or fortyleven?
No. I’m not familiar with umpti…steen and forty. What’s it?
But let’s get back to what Stephen Chrisomalis was saying.
The ending –illion tells us a number is big, because we recognize it from real numbers, like million and billion.
So when we put a funny morpheme at the front to make zillion, jillion, or squillion, we understand that the number is probably more than a million.
Exactly. Now do people use big indefinite numbers anywhere else in the world, Rob?
Sure. In the Middle East, a thousand and one is used as a big indefinite number, like in the famous storybook – A Thousand and One Nights.
In Japan, they use eight thousand. And in Sweden, they say femtioelva, which means fifty-leven.
But it still sounds like here, in the UK, we use sillier numerals than any other parts of the world.
That’s true. And it gets even sillier when we start using intensifiers. These are words or prefixes in this case that make the meaning of another word stronger.
Let’s listen to our expert in the field again, talking about this.
The intensifiers are ka and ga and ba. So if I were to ask, which is bigger, a zillion or a bazillion?
Almost all English speakers will say that a bazillion is definitely bigger than a zillion.
OK, well we haven’t got a gazillion minutes to finish the show.
But I should explain that a prefix is a letter or letters added to the beginning of the word to change its meaning.
Now, let’s move on to today’s question. Rob, I asked you: What does ’hyperbolic’ mean? Is it…a) endless, b) enormous or c) exaggerated?
And I said endless.
And you were wrong again I’m afraid, Rob! The answer is c) exaggerated.
It has a more specific meaning in mathematics, but the origin of the word is the same. The noun hyperbole comes from Ancient Greek.
OK, let’s use some hyperbole to talk through the vocabulary items we heard today.
Number one is ’zillion’, which means a very big but indefinite number. For example, ’I have a zillion things to do today.’
OK, number two – ’indefinite’ , means vague or without clear limits. For example, ’Rob will be on holiday for an indefinite period of time.’
Really? Who told you that?
Let’s move on to number three-numeral or number. For example, ’The letter X is the Roman numeral for ten.’
Number four – a morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in a language. For example, a word or part of a word.
For example, ’Gazillion’ contains two morphemes – ga and zillion.’
Number five – an ’intensifier’ makes the meaning of another word stronger. ’Rob made me an excellent cup of coffee this morning.’
Did I? The intensifier in this example is ’excellent’. I’m glad you like my coffee, Catherine!
OK, our final word today is ’prefix’ – which is a letter or letters added to the beginning of a word to change its meaning.
For example, ’Un is a very common prefix in the English language.’
Unquestionably! Well, that’s all we have time for today. But if you would like to befriend us. That’s be-friend with the prefix ’be’ + the noun ’friend’…
Then please visit our Facebook, Twitter or YouTube pages. You’ll find umpteen useful tips on how to improve your English!
Not umpteen, Catherine! Squillions, Gazillions in fact! Byebye!