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"The idea that machines far more powerful than their GE-645 mainframe would be sold for a thousand dollars by the millions only 30 years later was pure science fiction. Sort of like the idea of supersonic trans-Atlantic undersea trains now." (Tanenbaum, Modern operating systems, 2nd edition, p. 40)

What does the author mean by "for a thousand dollars by the millions"?

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The thousand and the millions are referring to different things.

For a thousand dollars refers to the price for which they were sold, while by the millions refers to the quantity sold.

This might separate things out a bit:

The idea that machines far more powerful than their GE-645 mainframe would be sold for a thousand dollars [and sold] by the millions…

It means that the machines cost $1,000 each and millions of them would be sold.

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  • Why is "the" used before "millions" then?
    – codezombie
    Oct 10 '15 at 13:23
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    @JasonS - "sold by the milllions" is just the way the phrase works idiomatically. NOTE: Sometimes the number might refer to how many are sold in a single transaction, as in: Eggs are sold by the dozen. However, the expression can also be used to say how many units are sold by a company over some span of time, for example: McDonalds sells hamburgers by the millions. You can find some good examples by going to this Ngram and following the links at the bottom.
    – J.R.
    Oct 10 '15 at 23:20
  • @J.R. I think you will find McDonald's sells hamburgers by the billions (rough estimate puts it at 2.3 billion hamburgers per year sold in McDonald alone). Which makes me somewhat sad to be honest.
    – DRF
    Oct 12 '15 at 12:24
  • @DRF - It depends on the unit of time. (If we're talking about monthly or weekly sales, then "millilons" would be the right unit.) But I share your sadness about McDonald's outrageous success.
    – J.R.
    Oct 12 '15 at 19:36

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