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Word for the Wise December 22, 2006 Broadcast Topic: Bit and byte

A recent program on two bits left a listener hungry for a little more information. To be more precise, he observed that in his computer world, two bits does add up to something: a bit of a byte! Coincidence, he asked, or otherwise? (来源:英语学习门户 http://www.EnglishCN.com)

Otherwise…well, sort of. The computer bit refers to a unit of computer information equivalent to the result of a choice between two alternatives (such as yes or no; on or off) . This bit (admittedly a tiny piece of information) comes not from the bit that means "a small piece or quantity of some material thing," but from the first, second, and last letters of the phrase binary digit. And while it might be more fitting to have a two-letter word represent binary digit, it certainly is easier for English speakers to include a vowel in there. By the way, bit has another computer sense too: it also refers to the physical representation of a bit by an electrical pulse, magnetized spot, or a hole whose presence or absence indicates data.

As for the story of byte—that is, the byte naming a unit of computer information or data-storage capacity consisting of a group of eight bits and used especially to represent an alphanumeric character—for that, we turn to speculation. Lexicographers believe (but are not certain) it developed as an alteration of bite.

 
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