A few weeks ago, I believe William Safire asked readers about "byte."

This is very surprising, because the derivations of "bits" and "bytes" are

well known (although still incomplete in OED).

ANNALS OF THE HISTORY OF COMPUTING, vol. 10, no. 4, 1989, pp. 336-342

groups together its articles on "bit" (from April 1984), "byte" (from January

1981, reprinted from BYTE of February 1977), and "bug" (from July 1981, April

1984, and October 1984).

"Bit" is from "binary digit" was spread from the BELL SYSTEM TECHNICAL

JOURNAL in 1948, although a 9 January 1947 Bell Labs memorandum also had the


"Byte" is a grouping of bits and had its first published reference in

1959. The spelling was made to avoid accidental mutation of "bite" to "bit."

"Bugs" date at least as far back as Thomas Alva Edison in 1878.

Allegedly, a real bug--a moth--got into a Navy computer in the summer of

1945, and the computer required "debugging." Fred Shapiro contributed his

bugs to the April 1984 ANNALS.

In The Sporting News, 17 November 1954, pg. 16, col. 2, "From the Ruhl

Book" by Oscar Ruhl, the baseball column ends with a familiar "Bits and

Bites--Begged, Borrowed."