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Wikipedia says:

Bit rot, also known as bit decay, data rot, or data decay, is a colloquial computing term used to describe either a gradual decay of storage media or the degradation of a software program over time. The latter use of the term implies that software can wear out or rust like a physical tool. More commonly, bit rot refers to the decay of physical storage media.

The Jargon File adds:

There actually are physical processes that produce such effects (alpha particles generated by trace radionuclides in ceramic chip packages, for example, can change the contents of a computer memory unpredictably, and various kinds of subtle media failures can corrupt files in mass storage), but they are quite rare (and computers are built with error-detecting circuitry to compensate for them).

When was the term bit rot (or bit-rot or bitrot) coined and by whom?

Edit: And do synonyms such as bit decay, data rot, data decay or software rot predate it?

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1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The oldest reference on Usenet I can find is in the subject line "Creeping Bit Rot in Bnews" in this 24th January 1982 net.news.b posting, discussing data loss.

It's next mentioned in this 22nd April 1983 net.misc posting, discussing various sources of bit rot in computing:

I have always heard "Program Entropy" referred to as "bit rot". It is a serious and ubiquotous phenomenon of computing systems. Any working program will in time tend to deteriorate if not periodically cared for. The minimal level of care requires periodic recompilation and fixing the bugs you discover.

However, Usenet only dates back to 1981 so I'm sure there's something earlier.

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Interestingly older jargon version (1981) does not list 'bit rot', though it lists 'bit decay' (which is in later versions linked to 'bit rot'). The first version of jargon that lists it is from 1990 (see for yourself). –  Unreason Nov 8 '11 at 12:51
1  
@Unreason The 1987 jarg140.txt also lists SOFTWARE ROT... Also known as "bit decay.", which by 1990's jarg211.txt is SOFTWARE ROT... Also known as BIT DECAY, BIT ROT. –  Hugo Nov 8 '11 at 13:23
2  
Software rot is there since 1981... actually since previous version, but that is not dated. –  Unreason Nov 8 '11 at 13:39

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