English has a number of stems, mainly of Greek
origin, for naming very large numbers
. Most are arcane. Kilo-
is well known from the metric system
. A few others have become well known through special usages: megaton
, though the nuclear bombing of Japan; nanosecond
(do you actually say that?), through the personal computer industry; and so on. Googol
seems to be a sort of joke in origin. For the most part these forms are of recent coinage, thanks to the rapid growth of technology.
But there are also authentically traditional names for large numbers, some of which might be usefully adopted today.
Large amounts of money or population in South Asia and the Middle East are often named in terms of lakh, meaning 100,000. A search of the Web will reveal its use daily in news stories outside of the American and European media. A hundred lakh, or ten million, is called a crore (Hindi karor), but this number seems to be much rarer.
Ancient Greek calls 10,000 a myriad. It was a real numeral, used in mathematics. The term is often used in English to mean "countless", but that is hyperbole.
The languages of the Far East generally use a form of Chinese wan4 (Japanese man, Taiwanese ban7, etc.) for 10,000. These cultures generally do their mathematics using myriads, rather than thousands; so 100,000 (remember, that's one lakh) is counted as 10,0000 - ten myriads, shi2-wan4, and so on. A myriad myriads is call one yi4, and a myriad yi4 is called one zhao4. These names go back at least to the Han dynasty, before C.E. 200. (One yi4 could traditionally also mean one lakh, and zhao4 could also mean ten lakh.) In origin yi4 seems to be a numeral; zhao4 means "portent"
Note that our way of counting in units of one thousand is Roman in origin - Latin says dec millia or dena milia "ten thousands" for one myriad.
I'd be grateful to hear of more such usages and will update this write-up.