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If it’s money, it’s a mill, not a mil

Brief by Central Staff

Language – December 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

During this election season, we noticed the term “mil levy” in at least one local newspaper, and it should be a “mill levy.”

But “mil” and “mill” have the same root, the Latin word “mille,” which means 1,000. A “mil” is 1/1000 of an inch, and a “mill” in this context is 1/1000 of a dollar, or 1/10 of a cent.

The latter mill shows up often in discussion of local taxes because property taxes are calculated as so many mills per dollar of assessed valuation, which works out to the same thing as so many dollars per thousands of dollars of assessed valuation. That is, a levy of 9 mills is the same as $9 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The Latin “mille” is the basis for other words, too. A “mile” comes from 1,000 two-step paces by Roman soldiers, a millipede is a beast with a lot of legs (even if it’s nowhere near 1,000), a millimeter is 1/1,000 of a meter, and a millennium, much in the news seven years ago, is 1,000 years.

So, unless you’re talking about the thickness of plastic or the like, it’s a mill, not a mil.