Question: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/51175/what-is-bigger-a-squillion-or-a-kadgillion

While this seems like (and may very well have been meant as) a silly nonsense question, there are serious things to say about which "word" would seem larger to a native speaker in direct comparison, in light of sound symbolism effects. Compare with the bouba/kiki effect, in which people consistently identify meanings of made-up words according to their sound values.

In particular, the English morpheme ka-, a variant of ker-, is "The first element in numerous onomatopœic or echoic formations intended to imitate the sound or the effect of the fall of some heavy body". This suggests an association with ponderous bulk.

In contrast, squ- /skw/ can be considered a phonestheme associated with small size: consider squeak, the sound of various small animals, and squirrel, a small rodent. Further, /i/ is cross-linguistically associated with small size.

  • 4
    Perhaps the question, if slightly better fleshed out, would be suitable for Linguistics, but I'm not entirely persuaded that it is on-topic here.
    – waiwai933
    May 29, 2012 at 5:23
  • @waiwai933: If we interpret it as asking about English sound symbolism, as I suggest, that's no different from asking about how English speakers perceive the meaning of particular complete words; and that's clearly on-topic. May 29, 2012 at 5:27
  • While I think your answer to the question is a good one, I agree very much with waiwai933; the question itself seems inadequately fleshed out.
    – J.R.
    May 29, 2012 at 10:56
  • Would it be appropriate to suggest an edit for the question? May 29, 2012 at 11:05
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    As a native speaker, neither alternative seems inherently "bigger". Younger people tend to say squillions, "arty" Americans tend to say kerjillions/kadgillions, and I myself say zillions. On the other hand, it might help to know that quintillions are bigger than quadrillions if you get into some kind of "numerical pissing contest". May 29, 2012 at 16:53
  • @FumbleFingers I’ve never heard either of kerjillions or kadgillions. Do people really say those? I’m with you that zillions is by far the most common. Sometimes you do hear gazillions or gajillions, though. I might be persuaded that jillions is also heard.
    – tchrist Mod
    Jun 3, 2012 at 5:24
  • @tchrist: I can't say for sure I've ever heard anyone use kerjillions in normal speech - it was new to me on the track "My Eyes" on Laurie Anderson's 1989 album "Strange Angels" - And then kerjillions of stars start to shine \ And icy comets go whizzing by \ And everything's shaking with a strange delight \ And here it is: the enormous night. I may have seen it in comic books since, but can't even be sure about that. I don't remember hearing gazillions/gajillions, but then again I probably only remember Laurie Anserson's one because I really like the album (esp. her lyrics). Jun 3, 2012 at 19:07
  • @FumbleFingers Your verse-separating slashes have morphed into backslashes, doubtless under some sort of Microsoft corruption. Would would Bringhurst say? :)
    – tchrist Mod
    Jun 3, 2012 at 19:12
  • I generally don't encounter numbers past trillion in common parlance. Everything past that either is expressed through chaining trillion or anything less, or through scientific notation. I'm not sure why we have words past trillion really. I mean, how many people can even grasp what the hell a billion of something is?
    – user19589
    Jun 19, 2012 at 21:13
  • @shinyspoongod: there are enough examples of languages that don't have numbers beyond 10 to make us realize that they're all made up and it's just culture that will tell us if we need a definition for a bigger number. What's a peta-, exa- or yotta-byte? I know now but not a few years ago; those are in not uncommon use now.
    – Mitch
    Jun 20, 2012 at 12:49

1 Answer 1


As said by FlumbleFingers, you cannot decide which word is used to mean something bigger than the other word means. There isn't a definitive answer to this, as people would probably give a slightly different meaning to those words. It also more probable that is a matter of a newer word versus an older word.

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