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Is a byte, a collection of 8 bits, considered to be a datum or data?

I would assume a bit would unequivocally be considered a datum, but I've seen an individual integer referred to as a datum too. Given that integers are often implemented as collections of 32 bits in most programming languages, would that mean that an arbitrarily large collection of bits could be considered a datum?

If a collection of multiple bits can be considered a single datum, at what point does a datum become so large it can be considered data?

For context, I was writing a class to hold an arbitrarily sized number, and I was trying to decide if I should call a list that had a variable number of bits "Data" or "Datum".

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it does not specify whether each constituent part of the representation of a statement say, or the statement itself, is to considered a single item of information. Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 22:22
  • @EdwinAshworth Good point. I'll add more context. Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 22:25
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is predicated on an erroneous assumption.
    – David
    Commented Sep 18, 2017 at 12:20

4 Answers 4

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For many people (including me), data is a mass noun, and doesn't have a singular.

For many more people, data is a plural, but doesn't have a singular.

A few people use datum as a singular, but most people would say item of data or some such phrase.

But in any case, the question of whether something is a single item of data (or datum) or not is a property not of the something itself, but of the meaning attached to it. If you use a byte as a set of eight distinct flags, they are clearly separate items of data. If you use a byte as an integer number, it is probably a single item of data. If you use it as part of a floating point number, it is part of a single item of data.

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  • I was writing a class to hold an arbitrarily sized number, and I was trying to decide if I should call a list that had a variable number of bits "Data" or "Datum". I'll go with datum then. Thanks! Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 22:29
  • @quietsamurai98 — might something like "varNum" not be better? If I were your computer programming instructor I would think so.
    – David
    Commented Sep 16, 2017 at 17:12
  • @David I actually ended up calling the list bit_list in the end. Commented Sep 16, 2017 at 17:32
  • @quietsamurai98 — Glad to hear that. Obviously not programming in Java if you are using underscores.
    – David
    Commented Sep 16, 2017 at 17:58
  • @David Nope, I'm writing an interpreter in C++ for a language I'm writing. Commented Sep 16, 2017 at 18:01
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We rarely use the singular Latin word datum pedantically unless it really is a singularity, one specific thing, rather than one of many.

In that case it is sometimes used in the English plural datums for example with reference to Ordnance Survey datum points.

So the information contained in a byte and even in a bit is data.

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I'm assuming we choose to properly distinguish between "data" and "datum" - which many people don't these days.

"Datum" is one piece of information, "data" is its plural. So it's not really about how many bits are used to store the information, but how many pieces of information we have. If I tell you that the peak of Ben Nevis is 1345m above sea level, then that's a datum, regardless of how many bits you choose to store it in.

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  • Okay, that explanation makes a lot of sense! I was trying to decide if I should call an object that held a number using a variable number of bits a "Data" or "Datum" object. I'll go with datum then. Thanks! Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 22:17
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A byte is considered to be neither a datum nor data because it is a unit and only specifies a quantity. Data is content; specifically organized or rational content.

IEEE definition of byte:

IEEE 1541 recommends:
a set of units to refer to quantities used in digital electronics and computing:
bit (symbol 'b'), a binary digit;
byte (symbol 'B'), a set of adjacent bits (usually, but not necessarily, eight) operated on as a group;
octet (symbol 'o'), a group of eight bits;

The OED on-line defines data as:

Facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.

Although computer memory can store data, the 0s and 1s in the bits and groups of bits in that memory can be totally meaningless. The question is therefore based on an erroneous equivalence.

As far as your particular problem of naming a variable is concerned, the answer would seem to have nothing to do with the size or composition of the memory location but whether you are storing one piece of information there or a collection thereof. (Sounds like too general a name, in any case. Surely you can come up with something more precise.)

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