AskDefine | Define bit

Dictionary Definition



1 a small quantity; "a spot of tea"; "a bit of paper" [syn: spot]
2 a small fragment of something broken off from the whole; "a bit of rock caught him in the eye" [syn: chip, flake, fleck, scrap]
3 an indefinitely short time; "wait just a moment"; "it only takes a minute"; "in just a bit" [syn: moment, minute, second]
4 an instance of some kind; "it was a nice piece of work"; "he had a bit of good luck" [syn: piece]
5 piece of metal held in horse's mouth by reins and used to control the horse while riding; "the horse was not accustomed to a bit"
6 a unit of measurement of information (from Binary + digIT); the amount of information in a system having two equiprobable states; "there are 8 bits in a byte"
7 a small amount of solid food; a mouthful; "all they had left was a bit of bread" [syn: morsel, bite]
8 a small fragment; "overheard snatches of their conversation" [syn: snatch]
9 a short theatrical performance that is part of a longer program; "he did his act three times every evening"; "she had a catchy little routine"; "it was one of the best numbers he ever did" [syn: act, routine, number, turn]
10 the cutting part of a drill; usually pointed and threaded and is replaceable in a brace or bitstock or drill press; "he looked around for the right size bit" [also: bitting, bitted]bite


1 a wound resulting from biting by an animal or a person
2 a small amount of solid food; a mouthful; "all they had left was a bit of bread" [syn: morsel, bit]
3 a painful wound caused by the thrust of an insect's stinger into skin [syn: sting, insect bite]
4 a light informal meal [syn: collation, snack]
5 (angling) an instance of a fish taking the bait; "after fishing for an hour he still had not had a bite"
6 wit having a sharp and caustic quality; "he commented with typical pungency"; "the bite of satire" [syn: pungency]
7 a strong odor or taste property; "the pungency of mustard"; "the sulfurous bite of garlic"; "the sharpness of strange spices" [syn: pungency, sharpness]
8 the act of gripping or chewing off with the teeth and jaws [syn: chomp]
9 a portion removed from the whole; "the government's weekly bite from my paycheck"


1 to grip, cut off, or tear with or as if with the teeth or jaws; "Gunny invariably tried to bite her" [syn: seize with teeth]
2 cause a sharp or stinging pain or discomfort; "The sun burned his face" [syn: sting, burn]
3 penetrate or cut, as with a knife; "The fork bit into the surface"
4 deliver a sting to; "A bee stung my arm yesterday" [syn: sting, prick] [also: bitten, bit]bit See bite [also: bitting, bitted]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Bit



  • , /bɪt/, /bIt/
  • Rhymes with: -ɪt

Etymology 1

bita and bite - all from , from .


  1. A piece of metal placed in a horse's mouth and connected to reins to direct the animal.
  2. A rotary cutting tool fitted to a drill, used to make holes.
  3. An eighth of a dollar. Note that there is no coin minted worth 12.5 cents.
    A quarter is two bits.
  4. In the context of "dated|UK": A coin of a specified value.
    A threepenny bit.
  5. A small piece of something.
    There were bits of paper all over the floor.
  6. A portion of something.
    I'd like a big bit of cake, please.
  7. A prison sentence.
  8. An excerpt of material from a stand-up comedian's repertoire.
Derived terms
metal in horse's mouth
rotary cutting tool
eighth of a dollar
See coin
small piece


  1. To a small extent; in a small amount (usually with "a").
    That's a bit too sweet.


  1. simple past of bite
    Your dog bit me!

Etymology 2

Coined by John Tukey in 1946 as an abbreviation of binary digit, probably influenced by connotations of “small portion”. Compare byte and nybble.


  1. In the context of "mathematics|computing": A binary digit, generally represented as a 1 or 0.
  2. The smallest unit of storage in a digital computer, consisting of a binary digit.
  3. In the context of "information theory|cryptography": Any datum that may take on one of exactly two values.
binary digit
  • Czech: bit
  • Dutch: bit
  • Finnish: bitti
  • French: bit
  • German: Bit
  • Greek: δυφίο
  • Hebrew: ביט
  • Icelandic: biti, tvíundatölustafur
  • Japanese: ビット (bitto)
  • Latvian: bits
  • Lithuanian: bitas
  • Russian: бит
smallest unit of storage
  • Czech: bit
  • Dutch: bit
  • Finnish: bitti
  • German: Bit
  • Greek: δυφίο
  • Latvian bits
  • Japanese: ビット (bitto)
  • Lithuanian: bitas
  • Portuguese: bit
  • Swedish: bit
datum that may take on one of exactly two values
  • Dutch: bit
  • German: Bit
  • Greek: δυφίο
  • Lithuanian: bitas
  • Portuguese: bit



  1. (gen.) essence.



Etymology 1


  1. bit

Etymology 2

From biti < *bheyH-.


  1. To beat.




Etymology 1


Etymology 2

From English bit < binary digit

Etymology 3




  1. end

Extensive Definition

A bit is a binary digit, taking a value of either 0 or 1. For example, the number 10010111 is 8 bits long, or in most cases, one modern PC byte. Binary digits are a basic unit of information storage and communication in digital computing and digital information theory. Information theory also often uses the natural digit, called either a nit or a nat. Quantum computing also uses qubits, a single piece of information with a probability of being true.
The bit is also a unit of measurement, the information capacity of one binary digit. It has the symbol bit, or b (see discussion below). The unit is also known as the shannon, with symbol Sh.

Binary digit

Claude E. Shannon first used the word bit in his 1948 paper A Mathematical Theory of Communication. He attributed its origin to John W. Tukey, who had written a Bell Labs memo on 9 January 1947 in which he contracted "binary digit" to simply "bit". Interestingly, Vannevar Bush had written in 1936 of "bits of information" that could be stored on the punch cards used in the mechanical computers of that time.
A bit of storage is like a light switch; it can be either on (1) or off (0). A single bit is a one or a zero, a true or a false, a "flag" which is "on" or "off", or in general, the quantity of information required to distinguish two mutually exclusive equally probable states from each other. Gregory Bateson defined a bit as "a difference that makes a difference".



Bits can be implemented in many forms depending on context. For example, in digital circuitry in most computing devices as well as flash memories, a bit is an electrical pulse generated by the internal clock in the control unit or data register. For devices using positive logic, a logical 1 (true value) is represented by upto 5 volts, while a logical 0 (false value) is represented by 0 volt.


On storage devices like 1,200,000nm-thick CD-ROMs, a bit is mechanically etched by intensive laser beam as a pit about 168nm deep and 670nm wide of variable length (depending on data type) on concentric tracks spaced 1,600nm apart. The total length of the track in a 650MB disk thus may span several kilometres. The light of the reading laser is reflected back into the laser, which then picks up that light with a sensor. The transition between a pit and a ground means a 1, and a short period of time on the same level is a 0. No more than 11 consequent zeros may occur, because the laser receives no state change during consequent zeros and has to rely on a timer to know the amount of zeros, whose accuracy is limited. CD-Rs work on the same theory, except that they use dyes instead of pits and ground.
Bits can also be represented magnetically, such as in magnetic tapes and cassettes.


It is important to differentiate between the use of "bit" in referring to a discrete storage unit and the use of "bit" in referring to a statistical unit of information. The bit, as a discrete storage unit, can by definition store only 0 or 1. A statistical bit is the amount of information that, on average, can be stored in a discrete bit. It is thus the amount of information carried by a choice between two equally likely outcomes. One bit corresponds to about 0.693 nats (ln(2)), or 0.301 hartleys (log10(2)).
Consider, for example, a computer file with one thousand 0s and 1s which can be losslessly compressed to a file of five hundred 0s and 1s (on average, over all files of that kind). The original file, although having 1,000 bits of storage, has at most 500 bits of information entropy, since information is not destroyed by lossless compression. A file can have no more information theoretical bits than it has storage bits. If these two ideas need to be distinguished, sometimes the name bit is used when discussing data storage while shannon is used for the statistical bit. However, most of the time, the meaning is clear from the context.


No uniform agreement has been reached yet about what the official unit symbols for bit and byte should be. One commonly-quoted standard, the International Electrotechnical Commission's IEC 60027, specifies that "bit" should be the unit symbol for the unit bit (e.g. "kbit" for kilobit). In the same standard, the symbols "o" and "B" are specified for the byte.
The other commonly-quoted relevant standard, IEEE 1541, specifies "b" to be the unit symbol for bit and "B" to be that for byte. This convention is also widely used in computing, but has so far not been considered acceptable internationally for several reasons:
  • both these symbols are already used for other units: "b" for barn and "B" for bel;
  • "bit" is already short for "binary digit", so there is little reason to abbreviate it any further;
  • it is customary to start a unit symbol with an uppercase letter only if the unit was named after a person (see also Claude Émile Jean-Baptiste Litre);
  • instead of byte, the term octet (unit symbol: "o") is used in some fields and in some French-speaking countries, which adds to the difficulty of agreeing on an international symbol;
  • "b" is occasionally also used for byte, along with "bit" for bit.
The unit bel is rarely used by itself (only as decibel, "dB", which is unlikely to be confused with a decibyte), so the chances of conflict with "B" for byte are quite small, even though both units are very commonly used in the same fields (e.g., telecommunication).

More than one bit

A byte is a collection of bits, originally differing in size depending on the context but now almost always eight bits. Eight-bit bytes, also known as octets, can represent 256 values (28 values, 0–255). A four-bit quantity is known as a nibble, and can represent 16 values (24 values, 0–15). A rarely used term, crumb, can refer to a two-bit quantity, and can represent 4 values (2² values, 0–3).
"Word" is a term for a slightly larger group of bits, but it has no standard size. It represents the size of one register in a Computer-CPU. In the IA-32 architecture more commonly known as x86-32, 16 bits are called a "word" (with 32 bits being a double word or dword), but other architectures have word sizes of 8, 32, 64, 80 or others.
Terms for large quantities of bits can be formed using the standard range of SI prefixes, e.g., kilobit (kbit), megabit (Mbit) and gigabit (Gbit). Note that much confusion exists regarding these units and their abbreviations (see above).
When a bit within a group of bits such as a byte or word is to be referred to, it is usually specified by a number from 0 (not 1) upwards corresponding to its position within the byte or word. However, 0 can refer to either the most significant bit or to the least significant bit depending on the context, so the convention being used must be known.
Certain bitwise computer processor instructions (such as bit set) operate at the level of manipulating bits rather than manipulating data interpreted as an aggregate of bits.
Telecommunications or computer network transfer rates are usually described in terms of bits per second (bps), not to be confused with baud.


bit in Arabic: بت
bit in Asturian: Bit
bit in Bengali: বিট
bit in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Біт
bit in Bosnian: Bit
bit in Breton: Bit
bit in Bulgarian: Бит (информатика)
bit in Catalan: Bit
bit in Czech: Bit
bit in Danish: Bit
bit in German: Bit
bit in Estonian: Bitt
bit in Modern Greek (1453-): Bit
bit in Spanish: Bit
bit in Esperanto: Bito
bit in Basque: Bit
bit in Persian: بیت (رایانه)
bit in French: Bit
bit in Friulian: Bit
bit in Irish: Giotán
bit in Korean: 비트
bit in Croatian: Bit
bit in Indonesian: Bit
bit in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Bit
bit in Italian: Bit (informatica)
bit in Hebrew: סיבית
bit in Kazakh: Бит
bit in Latvian: Bits
bit in Luxembourgish: Bit
bit in Lithuanian: Bitas
bit in Hungarian: Bit
bit in Macedonian: Бит
bit in Maltese: Bit
bit in Malay (macrolanguage): Bit
bit in Dutch: Bit (informatica)
bit in Japanese: ビット
bit in Norwegian: Bit
bit in Norwegian Nynorsk: Bit
bit in Polish: Bit
bit in Portuguese: Bit
bit in Romanian: Bit
bit in Russian: Бит
bit in Simple English: Bit
bit in Slovak: Bit
bit in Slovenian: Bit
bit in Serbo-Croatian: Bit
bit in Finnish: Bitti
bit in Swedish: Bit
bit in Tamil: இருமம்
bit in Thai: บิต
bit in Vietnamese: Bit
bit in Tajik: Бит
bit in Turkish: Bit (bilişim)
bit in Ukrainian: Біт
bit in Yiddish: ביט
bit in Chinese: 位元

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

ALGOL, COBOL, EDP, FORTRAN, a breath, a continental, a curse, a damn, a darn, a hoot, ace, act, actor, aculeus, acumination, afterpiece, allotment, allowance, alphabetic data, alphanumeric code, anchor watch, angular data, antagonist, antihero, arrest, assembler, atom, auger, back band, backstrap, bagatelle, bauble, bean, bearing rein, bellyband, bibelot, big end, bigger half, binary digit, binary scale, binary system, bit part, bite, blinders, blinds, borer, bowshot, brake, brass farthing, breeching, bridle, brief span, budget, bug, butt, button, byte, caparison, cast, cavesson, cent, chain, channel, character, chaser, check, checkrein, cheekpiece, chinband, chip, chock, chunk, cinch, cipher, clip, clipping, clog, close quarters, close range, collar, collop, command pulses, commands, commission, communication explosion, communication theory, compiler, computer code, computer language, computer program, constrain, contingent, control signals, controlled quantity, correcting signals, countercheck, crack, crownband, crumb, crupper, cue, curb, curb bit, curio, curtain, curtain call, curtain raiser, cusp, cut, cutting, dab, damper, data, data retrieval, data storage, day shift, deal, decoding, destiny, digit, divertimento, divertissement, dividend, dogwatch, dole, dollop, doorstop, dot, drag, drag sail, dram, dribble, driblet, drift anchor, drift sail, drill, drogue, drop, dwarf, earreach, earshot, electronic data processing, encoding, end, entropy, epilogue, equal share, error, error signals, exode, exodus, expository scene, farce, farthing, fat part, fate, feather, feedback pulses, feedback signals, feeder, fetter, fig, figure, film data, finale, fleabite, fleck, flyspeck, folderol, fragment, fribble, frippery, full time, gag swivel, gaud, gewgaw, gimcrack, girth, gob, gobbet, grain, granule, graveyard shift, groat, gunshot, hackamore, hair, hair space, hairbreadth, hairsbreadth, half, half rations, half time, halfpenny, halter, halver, hames, hametugs, handful, harness, headgear, headstall, heavy, helping, hero, heroine, hexadecimal system, hill of beans, hip straps, hoke act, hold back, hold down, hold in, holdback, hunk, inch, information, information explosion, information theory, ingenue, inhibit, input data, input quantity, instant, instructions, interest, interlude, intermezzo, intermission, introduction, iota, jaquima, jerk line, jest, joke, jot, kickshaw, knickknack, knickknackery, lead, lead role, leading lady, leading man, leading woman, lines, little, little bit, little ways, little while, lobster trick, lot, lota, lump, machine language, martingale, measure, meed, mere subsistence, mess, message, minikin, minim, minimum, minutiae, mite, mockery, modicum, moiety, molecule, molehill, moment, morsel, mote, mouthful, mucro, multiple messages, neb, needle, nib, night shift, no time, noise, noseband, notation, number, numeral, numeric data, numero, nutshell, octal system, oscillograph data, ounce, output data, output quantity, overtime, pair of winks, paring, part, part time, particle, pebble, pelham, peppercorn, percentage, person, personage, picayune, piece, pin, pinch, pinch of snuff, pinprick, pistol shot, pittance, play, point, polar data, pole strap, portion, prick, prickle, prologue, proportion, protagonist, punch-card data, quantum, quota, rake-off, random data, rap, rasher, ration, rectangular data, red cent, redundancy, reference quantity, reins, relay, remora, ribbons, role, routine, row of pins, ruly English, rush, saddle, scene, scoop, scotch, scrap, scrimption, scruple, sea anchor, segment, shackle, shaft tug, shard, share, shaving, shift, shit, shiver, short allowance, short commons, short distance, short piece, short spell, short time, short way, shred, shtick, side, side check, sign, signal, signals, single messages, sketch, skit, slice, sliver, small share, small space, smidgen, smitch, smithereen, snack, snaffle, snap, snatch, sneeshing, snip, snippet, song and dance, sou, soubrette, space, span, speck, spell, spitting distance, splinter, split schedule, split shift, spoke, spoonful, spot, spurt, stake, stand-up comedy act, starvation wages, stay, step, sting, stint, stitch, stock, stop, straight part, straw, stretch, striptease, stump, sunrise watch, supporting character, supporting role, surcingle, swing shift, symbol, tack, tackle, tatter, thimbleful, time, tiny bit, tip, title role, tittle, tour, tour of duty, toy, trammel, trappings, trick, trifle, trifling amount, trinket, trivia, triviality, tug, tuppence, turn, turn of work, two cents, two shakes, twopence, unorganized data, villain, visible-speech data, walk-on, walking part, watch, whet, whim-wham, whit, winker braces, withhold, work shift, yoke
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