Hella Good: Mixing Science and California Slang to Name a Really Big Number

By Smriti Rao | March 3, 2010 2:18 pm

hellaIf you came across the number 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, which is a one followed by 27 zeroes, won’t you say that’s a hella lot of numbers?

UC Davis student Austin Sendek seems to think so. He has initiated a Facebook campaign to designate a scientifically accepted prefix for this number, 10^27. The prefix he chose is “hella” because it is “a hell of a lot” of numbers. It is also his way of mixing homegrown California slang with science. Sendek thinks the new prefix would be the best way to acknowledge the Golden State’s hella hot contributions to science.

If Sendek’s proposal is accepted, then hella would come right after “yotta.”

Physics World reports:

Yotta (1024), which was established in 2001, is currently the largest number established in the International System of Units (SI) — the world’s most widely used system of measurement — with zeta (1021), exa (1018) and peta (1015) following close behind.

Already, Sendek’s Facebook fan page for the new designator has racked up a huge following, with more than 30,000 fans.

But what would you use hella for in science? DISCOVER’s Cosmic Variance explains that a hellasecond is ten billion times the age of the universe, and the mass of the earth is about 6 hellagrams. Sendek says you could also use hella to describe the wattage of the Sun, the space between galaxies, or the number of atoms in a sample.

Sendek has already written to the Consultative Committee for Units (CCU) which advises the International Committee for Weights and Measures–the body that makes the final decisions on the prefixes. However, CCU’s head, Ian Mills, has said that he’s skeptical that hella will win approval.

Related Content:
Cosmic Variance: Hella…yes!

Image: Facebook/ The official petition to establish “Hella”

MORE ABOUT: exa, hella, mega, peta, yota, zeta
  • Number 6


    The former is a greek letter, the latter an SI prefix.

  • http://sacbee.com/alcala Carlos Alcala
  • Doctor Scott

    It’s a very big number. It’s still not bigger than a google – 10^100, a number that was defined in the 19030s.

  • Mathew

    Sorry Doctor Scott, but ‘google’ is the name of a popular search engine. A ‘Googol’ is an extremely large number.
    One would assume that as a ‘doctor’ you would know that.

    And FYI, a googolplex is even bigger still. 10^googol.

  • HappyPig

    It’s been done. Tom Weller wrote something very similar in his “Science Made Stupid” about 20 years ago.

    Powers of 10:
    12 (helluva-)
    9 (heckuva-)
    6 (lotsa-)
    3 (buncha-)
    1 (decca-)
    -2 (sexi-)
    -3 (silli-)
    -9 (banana-)
    -12 (doodoo-)

    cf: http://www.besse.at/sms/tables.html
    Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Science-Made-Stupid-Tom-Weller/dp/0395366461

  • http://home.earthlink.net/~booky1/ Louis Bookbinder

    I don’t see CCU’s problem – makes sense to me. And if they don’t do it for 10^24, and do some other prefix, at some later point in time, say 2054 or so, someone will suggest it again for 10^42 or something like that.

  • http://home.earthlink.net/~booky1/ Louis Bookbinder

    Sorry, 10^27 my bad

  • syregnask

    What I like about this suggestion is that – by extrapolation from ‘yotta’ vs ‘yocto’ and ‘zetta’ vs ‘zepto’ – we could end up with 10^-27 being ‘hello’…

  • http://www.studentstuff.com alicia

    Oh, snap. How greedy does one part of the state get to be? NorCal has TWO elements (californium and berkelium) on the periodic table. Do they really need another nod? And does Sendek really need to be profiting from it all? He couldn’t maybe…give the profits of his T-shirts to the scientific community? Or at least back to the city of Oakland for ripping off their lingo and making a buck?
    I was inspired by Sendek’s story, and wrote a piece about it here:

  • Alexandra

    “that’s a hella lot of numbers”, You would just say, that’s hella numbers

  • http://www.deviledegg.org/ Deviled Egg

    I hella love it!


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