Googol and Google
In 1938 American mathematician Edward Kasner (pictured here) asked his two young nephews for the name of a huge arbitrary number, which Kasner set at one followed by one hundred zeros. Edward Sirotta, then nine years old, suggested googol which Kasner subsequently described in his book Mathematics and the Imagination two years later. As Kasner told the story in his book, co-written with James R. Newman:
Words of wisdom are spoken by children as least as often by scientists. The name “googol“ was invented by a child (Dr. Kasner’s nine-year-old nephew: Milton Sirotta) who was asked to think up a name for a very big number, namely, 1 with a hundred zeros after it. He was very certain that this number was not infinite, and therefore equally certain that it had to have a name. At the same time that he suggested “googol” he gave a name for a still larger number: “Googolplex.” A googolplex is much larger than a googol, but is still finite, as the inventor of the name was quick to point out. It was suggested that a googolplex should be 1, followed by writing zeros until you get tired. This is a description of what would happen if one actually tried to write a googolplex, but different people get tired at different times and it would never do to have Carnera a better mathematician than Dr. Einstein, simply because he had more endurance. The googolplex then, is a specific finite number, with so many zeros after the 1 that the number is a googol. A googolplex is much bigger than a googol. You will get some idea of the size of this very large but finite number from the fact that there would not be enough room to write it, if you went to the farthest star, touring all the nebulae and putting down zeros every inch of the way.
The word has no etymology or history-it came straight from the imaginative brain of a 9 year old boy and into history! The word google was already in the American lexicon as the title of children’s cartoon, Barney Google, which came from a song called The Goo-Goo Song (1900) in Vincent Cartwright Vicker’s The Google Book, a childrens book about all the unusual creatures who live in Googleland.
Other names for the number googol include ten duotrigintillion (short scale), ten thousand sexdecillion (long scale) or ten sexdecilliard (Peletier scale).
It has notably been used in the last eighteen years in a slightly different spelling as the name of the world’s largest search engine, when on September 27, 1998, Sergey Brin and Larry Page launched as small company they named Google.
Happy Birthday, Google!
Google doodle courtesy google; Edward Kasner, Barney Google and creatures from Googleland all in the public domain.