In the shower this morning I was trying to remember a song lyric that featured a number of things the protagonist hadn’t done. I couldn’t remember how long his to do list was. I think it was a million things he hadn’t yet got round to. Perhaps, in your hectic schedule, you are nodding with agreement as you identify with his sentiment. Or maybe there’s a billion things you haven’t done?
But that would be a bit crass, wouldn’t it?
Of course you don’t have a million things to do, but you definitely don’t have a billion things to do. A million is an exaggeration, a symbol of a long list – but a billion? Who do you think you are? How outlandish, how gauche. A billion, oddly, doesn’t have the weight of a million. Millions seems to be the cut off point of our imagination – a billion short circuits. Even the sound of them, a million is mellifluous and a billion is bilious. Is ‘billion’ too nouveau riche? Has inflation brought into common parlance a grotesquely astronomical word our ancestors would barley have grasped?
What about the humble thousand? Is there not something rich and tangible about a thousand or thousands? Thousands are tantalisingly within reach. They still echo and resonate on a human scale. A thousand is epic and allows to assume the mantles of heroes overcoming thousand to one odds. There is something so 20th century about a million. One thinks of Austin Power’s Doctor Evil cryogenically frozen in the 60s and defrosted at the end of the century, who is made the laughing stock of the other evil geniuses for demanding only a million pounds ransom. And a billion is oh so 21st century with Justin Timberlake telling us in the Social Network, that a million is not cool, a billion is cool. The tagline on one of the posters being along the lines that you don’t get to half a billion friends without making a few enemies.
But thousands are timeless and ring down through the ages…
And then you realise you are being a hipster about numbers.
And it’s time to get out the shower.