Did You Know This ‘Bit’?

The words ‘bits’ and ‘software’ are part of our daily vocabulary now. Yet, you will be surprised to know that the word ‘bit’ was originally planned to be called either “bigit” or “binit” – from the words BInary diGIT or BINary digIT. But it was John W. Tukey, a Princeton University statistician who coined the words “software” and “bit.”

Tukey was one of most influential statisticians of USA. Tukey is credited in the “Annals of the History of Computers” as the person who, in 1946, coined the word “bit,” a contraction of “binary digit,” the term describing the 1s and 0s that are the basis of computer programs. Tukey suggested the shorter “bit” to computer experts at AT&T Bell Laboratories, where he was a researcher. After all, “Bit” was easier on the tongue than “binit” and “bigit,” so it stuck.

Twelve years later, Tukey came up with the word “software” to describe the programs. Tukey first used the word ‘software’ in a 1958 article he wrote for American Mathematical Monthly.

He pioneered the field of exploratory data analysis and also invented the Fast Fourier Transform.

An excellent biography of John Tukey appears here and it is interesting to read how he got his education.

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