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T Time: Real Money

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” That’s one of the best-known sayings around Capitol Hill, generally attributed to Everett Dirksen, a conservative Republican who served as minority leader in the U.S. Senate in the 1950s and 1960s.

As the researchers Barry Popik and Fred Shapiro have shown, however, Dirksen didn’t originate the saying, which goes back to the Depression of the 1930s. But he did popularize it as a way to satirize government extravagance.

In any case, that’s so 20th century. In the current century, if we want to impress readers with big money, it has to be a thousand billions — a trillion. (That’s the American way; the British used to name big numbers differently, but now they follow our lead.) And to make clear that it’s not merely the old “billion here, billion there,” we emphasize the T of trillion. Like this, on Fox News, April 20, 2014:

“The Institute for Energy Research has a study showing that there’s 128 trillion-with-a-t dollars in oil and natural gas under federal lands.”

Perry Willis, vice president of Downsize DC used it in a headline, “How the feds misplaced $1 trillion, with a T” in August.

Heather Kutzman wrote recently on the Stuller Blog: “You know that the Millennials, sometimes called Gen Y, are an up-and coming — and high spending! — age group. These 86 million 18 to 34-year olds account for $1.3 trillion of consumer spending each  year. Yes, that’s trillion with a t!

And in September, the Chicago Tribune announced that it would endorse Gary Johnson, a Libertarian, for president rather than the two major party candidates. “But unless the United States tames a national debt that’s rapidly approaching $20 trillion-with-a-T, Americans face ever tighter constrictions on what this country can afford, at home or overseas.”

In our century, billionaires (like Donald Trump) have become common. Wikipedia tells us there are more than 500 billionaires in the United States nowadays. No trillionaires yet, but when they come, that will be news — trillionaires with a T.

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