*Saturdays are perfect days for digital surprises. Surprise—we’re talking about the history and etymology of computer code and storage today!*

To live in the 21st century is to exist in a digital world of greater depth than any our species has known before. Yet, despite the futuristic complexity of the devices many of us carry in our pockets, the fundamental vocabulary of data architecture is lost to us. How much do you know about bits and bytes?

The word **bit **is a portmanteau of **binary digit**:

BI- (*two*) + -NARY (*parts of a whole*) DIGIT- (*finger or toe—a nod to our base ten math system*)

Binary code represents the most basic form of computer code, a two-symbol system such as 0 and 1 representing *on *and *off*. As the fundamental particles of digital technologies, bits are very small and have been bundled in larger and larger amounts as tech has advanced. The first bundle, consisting of eight bits, was called a **byte **by an IBM scientist. Next came kilobytes:

KILO- (*thousand*) + BYTE

Knowing the meanings of metric prefixes is important, but can be misleading when we discuss bits and bytes. A **kilobyte **(KB) is actually 1,024 bytes because of the differences between binary (*base two*) and decimal (*base ten*) systems. By the same logic, the other units of computer memory measurement also veer from their conventional roots:

MEGA- (*million*) + BYTE

A **megabyte **(MB) does not consist of a million bytes but rather 1,024 x 1,024 bytes. **MEGA**- also means *great*, which certainly does apply here. But there are greater bundles of bytes…

GIGA- (*billion*) + BYTE

A **gigabyte **(GB) is one giant batch of bytes, 1,024 x 1,024 x 1,024 to be specific.

TERA- (*trillion*) + BYTE

Next comes the **terabyte **(TB), which is 1,024 x 1,024 x 1,024 x 1,024 bytes. Every time you multiply by 1,024, you reach another level of computer storage:

PETA- (*quadrillion*) + BYTE

EXA- (*quintillion*) + BYTE

ZETTA- (*sextillion*) + BYTE

YOTTA- (*septillion*) + BYTE

After the **yottabyte**, which is the largest current measure of theoretical storage capacity, we run out of standard measurement prefixes. Unless the International System of Units is expanded, the next theoretical storage unit will be the **brontobyte**. That’s a lot of bits!

*“It's ridiculous to live 100 years and only be able to remember 30 million bytes. You know, less than a compact disc. The human condition is really becoming more obsolete every minute.”* —Marvin Minsky