Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Petition

Below is a copy of the official petition, as it stands now:

To Whom It May Concern:

For all intents and purposes, the SI prefix system has served the scientific community extremely well since its inception. However, we believe there is one significant flaw in the system which demands immediate attention.

As you know, the largest number with a designated SI prefix is 10^24, which carries the name "yotta-". However, in our world of increasing physical awareness and experimental precision, this number is no longer a satisfactory "upper bound" in scientific nomenclature. The analysis of many physical phenomena reveals natural quantities in excess of 27 orders of magnitude, a number which is currently ignored by the SI system.

Designating a prefix for 10^27 is of critical importance for scientists in all fields. This number is significant in many crucial calculations, including the wattage of the sun, distances between galaxies, or the number of atoms in a large sample.

Addressing this issue presents an exciting opportunity. Since the SI system has traditionally adopted the last names of accomplished scientists for unit nomenclature, it follows that prefix designation should do the same. From this tradition comes the chance for the SI system to use nomenclature to honor a constantly overlooked scientific contributor: Northern California.

Northern California is home to many influential research institutions, including the University of California, Davis, the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, and the Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories. Countless contributions to science have been made by these and other local schools; in fact, elements 93-103 were all discovered at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in a span of 21 years.

However, science isn't all that sets Northern California apart from the rest of the world. The area is also the only region in the world currently practicing widespread usage of the English slang "hella," which typically means "very," or can refer to a large quantity (e.g. "there are hella stars out tonight").

Thus, we believe that the SI system can not only rectify their failing prefix system but also honor the scientific progress of Northern California by formally establishing "hella-" as the prefix for 10^27.

Under this designation, the complexity of high-magnitude nomenclature would be greatly reduced. For example, the number of atoms in 120 kg of carbon-12 would be simplified from 6,000 yottaatoms to 6 hellaatoms. Similarly, the sun (mass of 2.2 hellatons) would release energy at 0.3 hellawatts, rather than 300 yottawatts.

We believe the designation of the "hella-" prefix would have a positive impact on all parties involved, and thus warrants serious consideration. We thank you for your time.

Austin Sendek
Movement Founder
UC Davis Physics

(List of signatories)


  1. I'm hella for it... where do i sign!

  2. Are you on facebook? If you are, you can add your signature to the petition by simply joining our group, titled "The Official Petition to Establish 'Hella-' as the SI Prefix for 10^27".

  3. You will also need "hello-" for 10^-27.

  4. Is there any way for a non-Facebook user to sign?

  5. "hello-" is cute for 10^-27, but phonetically confusing (and not quite in the zepto-/yocto- pattern).

    I vote for "helpto-".

  6. Just updated my computer prefix web page (http://mov.dx.cx/main/computer-prefixes.html) to include hella- for 10^27, next to the 'UseNet approved' 1993 Morgan Burke extention of 'harpi-' to the SI approved prefix list.

    Now my question is, like some others have asked here as well: are you going to petition 'hello-', 'helto-' or 'helpto-' for the 10^-27 prefix at the same time?

    I kinda like 'helto-' :)

  7. Helluva good job, Austin Sendek. The ultimate Bushism with 27 zeros...I love it.

  8. This is a bad idea.

    The following sites suggest X for +27 and -27.


    Which would leave:
    W for +30, w for -30
    V for +33, v for -33
    U for +36, and either u- or t- for -36.
    T- is already claimed for Tera-, and many people write um for micrometer although the Greek mu is meant.
    S for +39, s for -39
    R for +42, r for -42
    Q for +45, q for -45
    P should probably be skipped, what with Peta- and pico- already claiming P and p.
    Possibly capital Pi and lower case pi could be used.
    O for +48, o for -48.
    n- has been claimed for -9 in nano-.
    Possibly the Greek nu could be used.
    However it could be skipped also.
    M should be skipped. Mega- and milli-.

    L for +54 (51) and l for -54 (51). The l may cause confusion with the number 1. Possibly the Greek lambda could be used.
    But then maybe O and o should be dropped too.

    K should be skipped. The Greek kappa looks too much like k, and k- for kilo- is already claimed.

    J for the next in the series, with j its inverse.
    I for the next in the series, with i its inverse.

    Maybe H for Hella- could be 10^60 or thereabouts. An e-word could be 10^-60, since h- is claimed for hecto-, and E- is claimed for Exa-. The greek eta can be symbolized by an H.

    Next in the series should be an F-word (femto takes f-) and then a g-word should be the inverse (Giga- takes G-).

    Maybe Dm should be decameter (rather than dam) and then dm is decimeter.

    C should probably be skipped what with c- being centi-.

    That leaves B- next in the series, with b- its inverse.

    Finally A- is last, with the Greek alpha its inverse. (a- is taken with atto-).

  9. @scrabblehack great comment, but that would be better if we actually started from z=10^3, y=10^6, etc.

    Having k, m, etc in the middle breaks the scheme and makes any effort to standardize future prefixes in a reverse alphabetical order rather pointless (which is a pity, since it'd be awesome. I love the way it would end in alpha, very close to aleph, and clearly a reference to the alpha-omega thing :)

    On the other hand, now that you mention standardization, I see another problem with this proposal, because h is already taken for hecto-, and using a capital H could be confusing because of the current zepta/zecto (Z/z) and yotta/yocto (Y/y) duality. Not to mention it would undermine attempts to standardize the capitalization of prefixes for multiples.

    All in all, I pretty much think the whole system needs to be redesigned from scratch, with a clear alphabetical order, capital letters for multiples and the equivalent lowercase letters for their fraction counterparts, and only multiples of 3 as exponents. And then we'll need a system for when we run out of letters... And some of these ideas have already been put forth by others, see http://enwp.org/SI_prefix#Proposed_changes.

  10. The system does not need to be designed from scratch. Students need to be studying Greek and Latin, and forget the Marx Brothers movies.

    However, I like the idea about making the biggest number alpha and the littlest omega.

    I don't think there will be any problem for some time. It will take some time for the X, W, and V words to penetrate the scientific vocabulary.

    How is it that a Physics student is making a proposal like this? Even if this is a graduate student, it would seem the person is woefully underqualified to make the proposal.

  11. Interesting idea and comments - the SI prefixes (current and proposed)save us from having to say things like '1.23 multiplied by ten raised to the power of 27 grams'. How about using the word 'up' until we can agree on new prefixes? e.g 1.23up27g.
    Waldir would like to start from scretch - how about getting rid of the illogical base 10 and switch to something that converts to binary easily (e.g. base 16). OK, only joking...

  12. Alternatives:

    Buncha- 10^33, bunchi 10^-33
    Gobza- 10^36, gobzi 10^-36
    Bucketza- 10^39, butketzi- 10^-39
    Fnorda- 10^42, fnordi- 10^42
    Fedrlbudgeta- 10^45, myretirmntsavingsi- 10^-45


  13. Students need to be studying Greek and Latin, and forget the Marx Brothers movies.

    I dunno. Seems to me that the Marx Brothers haven't been dead nearly as long as Latin and Greek.....

  14. Michael, they already have a shorter way to say "ten raised to the power of". Its called e-notation. 1.23x10^27 can be written as 1.23e27, and can also be said "1 point 2 three e 27".

  15. We have been saying Hella in Seattle for hella. And I am binging it to Portland.