Googol, Kasner, and Milton Sirotta
Date: 07/14/99 at 16:55:09 From: Melanie Subject: Powers of 10 Who coined the phrase "googleplex," and when? I have used several search engines and they have the definition, but not the origin. Thank you for your consideration, Melanie
Date: 07/15/99 at 11:59:13 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: Powers of 10 Hi, Melanie. We get questions about this frequently, so I did a little extra research to find the details beyond what's in our archives. Here's a page on the Web that tells about the origin of the words googol and googolplex: How Many? A Dictionary of Units of Measurement http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/units/dictG.html This says: "googol a unit of quantity equal to 10^100 (1 followed by 100 zeroes). The googol was invented by the American mathematician Edward Kasner (1878- 1955) in 1938. According to the story, Kasner asked his nephew Milton Sirotta, who was then 8 years old, what name he would give to a really large number, and "googol" was Milton's response. Kasner also defined the googolplex, equal to 10^googol, that is, 1 followed by a googol of zeroes. These inventions caught the public's fancy and are often mentioned in discussions of very large numbers." A slightly different version is in Googolplex http://www.fpx.de/fp/Fun/Googolplex/ which says: "The American mathematician Edward Kasner once asked his nine-year-old nephew to invent a name for a very large number, ten to the power of one hundred; and the boy called it a googol. He thought this was a number to overflow people's minds, being bigger than anything that can ever be put into words. Another mathematician then shot back with googolplex, and defined it to be 10 to the power of googol." Here's a review of the 1940 book in which Kasner discussed the googol: Edward Kasner and James Newman. Mathematics and the Imagination http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/~susan/bib/nf/k/kasner.htm Also check out our Dr. Math FAQ on large numbers: http://mathforum.org/dr.math/faq/faq.large.numbers.html Summing up, the googol was named by Milton Sirotta, and the googolplex by his uncle Edward Kasner, who I suspect had set Milton up by asking for a name for the googol, just so he could name something incredibly larger. Incidentally, you'll find that the googol can just as well be called "10 duotrigintillion" following the (more or less) standard conventions for naming large numbers; googol is just the fun name, which allows us to name "googolplex" easily; and if a mathematician or scientist ever had occasion to use either number, they would just call them 10^100 and 10^10^100 because numbers are much easier to work with than names. - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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