Putting numbers in human terms

by thewheatandthechaff


Author and cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter famously talked about the idea of “number numbness”–the inability to get our heads around gigantic figures and be able to estimate quantities within an order of magnitude or two.

Dictionary of Numbers is a Chrome extension that mitigates this condition by allowing users to insert equivalences in real-world terms. It would be one thing to just mention that a military measure would require $8.2 billion, but it adds a whole new layer of context to mention that a military measure would require the net worth of Fox head honcho Rupert Murdoch.

The extension searches users writings for mentions of currencies, weight, area, population and speed, and offers options of possible replacements to make the numbers less abstract.


Dictionary of Numbers is a simple way to assign more meaning to quantities, and a million monkeys with a million typewriters wouldn’t be able to improve upon it. I’m going to use it now to try to better understand what payments of £3.4m in tax on £3.2bn of sales to customers in Britain last year means in human terms.