[KS] Going, going, gyeong: but why 10 quadrillion?

Stefan Ewing sa_ewing at hotmail.com
Fri Sep 30 18:25:51 EDT 2005

Dear Aidan Foster-Carter:

That was a fascinating posting.  Fortunately, there appears to be a simple 
answer to your question: the article's headline--"13 zeros all in a row"--is 
a slip-up.

The BOK stated a figure of 27 quadrillion won, or 2.7 gyeong won.  In North 
American English at least (as I understand usage in the UK and possibly 
elsewhere is or used to be somewhat different, what with milliards et al.), 
27 quadrillion means 27 followed by 15 zeroes (million: 6 zeroes; billion: 9 
zeroes; trillion: 12 zeroes; quadrillion: 15 zeroes; quintillion: 18 

So 2.7 gyeong/kyo^ng would be 2.7 x 10 x 1 quadrillion = 
27,000,000,000,000,000; hence, 16 zeroes, and not the egregious figure of 

Thus, fortunately, the earth is still rotating on its axis, and the 
Sino-Korean numeral system is safely intact, the gyeong properly 
representing an exponentiation of ten thousand.

Further investigation reveals that gyeong is the familiar character "seoul 
gyeong", representing a country's capital.  On the online Naver Hanja 
dictionary (http://hanja.naver.com/hanja.naver?where=brow_hanja&id=7972), 
one definition for the character is /suu^i tanwi (chou^i manbae)/ 
("numerical quantity (/cho/ times /man/ [one trillion times ten 
thousand])").  This matches up with the Wikipedia article you cited, which 
mentions 10,000 raised to the fourth power as being the (Mandarin) Chinese 
"jing," the same character.

By the way, we should be concerned about the BOK official's comment that he 
had to "refer foreign bankers to a dictionary to confirm to them that there 
was such an English word as 'quadrillion.'"  Hopefully, the accountants who 
work for those bankers, at least, know what a quadrillion is, even if their 
employers or the folks at Joongang do not!

Stefan Ewing
Finally able to apply his B.Sc. to a KS List discussion


>From: Afostercarter at aol.com
>Reply-To: Korean Studies Discussion List <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>To: Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
>Subject: [KS] Going, going, gyeong: but why 10 quadrillion?
>Date: Fri, 30 Sep 2005 07:43:55 EDT
>A query for those less mathematically challenged than me
>(ie just about everyone).
>In the JoongAng story below, I'm puzzled why the new mega-unit
>should have 13 zeroes, rather than 12 or 16.
>If I have it aright, the man/ok system - whose use even in official
>English-language websites etc traps many an unwary foreigner
>brought up on three-based Western thousands/millions/billions
>  - proceeds in quasi-binary units of 2 and 4, thus:
>baek                 100
>man                  10,000 (a hundred hundreds)
>ok                     100,000,000 (ten thousand ten thousands)
>That is already plenty big enough. But the ROK's perverse refusal
>to do to the won what de Gaulle did for the franc in 1959 - ie create
>a new won, worth 100 old won - means they now need mega-numbers;
>hence the gyeong. Fair enough.
>But why 13 zeroes? OK, ok ok (16 zeroes, ten quintillion!) is beyond need, 
>But why not 12 zeroes (10,000 cubed), ie the western quadrillion?
>Has 13 some mystical significance? Lucky for some?
>I learn from Wikipedia (see below; sorry I don't know how to paste
>that Chinese has words for both of the above (12 and 16 zeroes).
>But otherwise I'm outnumbered, and can only shriek: OOOOOOOOOOOOO!
>Can anyone figure it out?
>yours, nonplussed
>Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds 
>Home address: 17 Birklands Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire, BD18 3BY, UK
>tel: +44(0)  1274  588586         (alt) +44(0) 1264 737634          mobile:
>+44(0)  7970  741307
>fax: +44(0)  1274  773663         ISDN:   +44(0)   1274 589280
>Email: afostercarter at aol.com     (alt) afostercarter at yahoo.com      
>[Please use @aol; but if any problems, please try @yahoo too - and let me
>know, so I can chide AOL]
>13 zeros all in a row: That's a gyeong here
>September 30, 2005 ? It's getting tougher to count the zeros in talking 
>the Korean macroeconomy, and some statisticians probably wish the won were
>worth only 10 or 100 to the dollar instead of over 1,000. All those zeros 
>describe an economy the size of Korea's has forced a new numerical term 
>into use:
>one gyeong, a unit of 10 quadrillion.
>The Bank of Korea said yesterday that the sum of all transactions through
>domestic financial service companies reached "2.7 gyeong won" or 27 
>won ($26 trillion) last year. Transactions in derivatives are also more 
>than a
>gyeong's worth every year.
>A Bank of Korea official said that when Korea's broadly defined money 
>reached 1.3 quadrillion won, he had to refer foreign bankers to a 
>to confirm to them that there was such an English word as "quadrillion."
>[edited for length]
>A myriad cubed (10 0003) is a zhao (?); cho (?); a myriad to the fourth 
>power (10 0004) is
>a jing (?); kei (?).

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