AskDefine | Define nibble

Dictionary Definition



1 a small byte [syn: nybble]
2 gentle biting


1 bite off very small pieces; "She nibbled on her cracker"
2 bite gently; "The woman tenderly nibbled at her baby's ear"
3 eat intermittently; take small bites of; "He pieced at the sandwich all morning"; "She never eats a full meal--she just nibbles" [syn: pick, piece]

User Contributed Dictionary


Etymology 1

origin unknown



  1. A small, quick bite taken with the front teeth.
  2. (in plural, nibbles): Small snacks such as crisps/potato chips or nuts, often eaten to accompany drinks.
a small, quick bite taken with the front teeth
small snacks


  1. To eat with small, quick bites.
    The rabbit nibbled the lettuce.
eat with small bites

Etymology 2

From nibble, punning on the homophony of byte and bite


  1. In the context of "Computing|US": : A unit of memory equal to a quarter of a byte, or two bits.
  2. In the context of "Computing|UK": : A unit of memory equal to half a byte, or four bits.

Extensive Definition

A nibble (often, nybble) is the computing term for a four-bit aggregation, or half an octet (an octet being an 8-bit byte). As a nibble contains 4 bits, there are sixteen (24) possible values, so a nibble corresponds to a single hexadecimal digit (thus, it is often referred to as a "hex digit" or "hexit").
A full byte (octet) is represented by two hexadecimal digits; therefore, it is common to display a byte of information as two nibbles. The nibble is often called a "semioctet" or a "quartet" in a networking or telecommunication context. Sometimes the set of all 256 byte values is represented as a table 16×16, which gives easily readable hexadecimal codes for each value.
The term "nibble" originates from the fact that the term "byte" is a pun on the English word "bite". A nibble is a small bite, which in this context is construed as "half a bite". The alternative spelling "nybble" parallels the spelling of "byte", as noted in editorials in Kilobaud and Byte in the early eighties.
The nibble is used to describe the amount of memory used to store a digit of a number stored in packed decimal format within an IBM mainframe. This technique is used to reduce space requirements, make computations faster, and make debugging easier. An 8-bit byte is split in half and each nibble is used to store one digit. The last nibble of the variable is reserved for the sign. Thus a variable which can store up to nine digits would be "packed" into 5 bytes. Ease of debugging resulted from the numbers being readable in a hex dump where two hex numbers are used to represent the value of a byte, as 16×16 = 28.
Historically, there have been cases where the term "nybble" was used for a set of bits fewer than 8, but not necessarily 4. In the Apple II microcomputer line, much of the disk drive control was implemented in software. Writing data to a disk was done by converting 256-byte pages into sets of 5-bit or, later, 6-bit nibbles; loading data from the disk required the reverse. Note that the term byte also had this ambiguity; at one time, byte meant a set of bits but not necessarily 8. Today, the terms "byte" and "nibble" generally refer to 8- and 4-bit collections, respectively, and are not often used for other sizes.
The sixteen nibbles and their equivalents in other numeral systems:


  • A related one-liner joke is: Computer programmers don't byte, they nibble a bit
  • Also related is the tongue-in-cheek usage of Nibble me twice instead of Bite me [vulg.].


nibble in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Нібл
nibble in Czech: Nibble
nibble in Danish: Nibble
nibble in German: Nibble
nibble in Estonian: Näks
nibble in Spanish: Nibble
nibble in French: Nibble (informatique)
nibble in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Nibble
nibble in Italian: Nibble
nibble in Kannada: ನಿಬ್ಬಲ್
nibble in Hungarian: Nibble
nibble in Dutch: Nibble
nibble in Japanese: ニブル
nibble in Portuguese: Nibble
nibble in Russian: Ниббл
nibble in Slovak: Nibble
nibble in Serbian: Нибл
nibble in Swedish: Nibble

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

and sinker, be a sucker, be taken in, bite, bolus, champ, chaw, chew, chew the cud, chew up, chomp, cud, devour, eat up, fall for, gnash, gnaw, go for, gob, gobble up, grind, gulp down, gum, lap up, line, masticate, morsel, mouth, mouthful, mumble, munch, nip, nosh, peck, peck at, pick, pick at, quid, ruminate, snack, snap, swallow, swallow anything, swallow hook, swallow whole, swing at, take the bait, tumble for
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