a bit, rather or somewhat; a little: a bit sleepy.
    a bit much, somewhat overdone or beyond tolerability.
    bit by bit, by degrees; gradually: Having saved money bit by bit, they now had enough to buy the land.
    do one's bit, to contribute one's share to an effort: They all did their bit during the war.
    every bit, quite; just: every bit as good.
    quite a bit, a fairly large amount: There's quite a bit of snow on the ground.

Origin of bit

before 1000; Middle English bite, Old English bita bit, morsel; cognate with German Bissen, Old Norse biti. See bite

Synonyms for bit Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for bit by bit




a small piece, portion, or quantity
a short time or distance
US and Canadian informal the value of an eighth of a dollar: spoken of only in units of twotwo bits
any small coin
short for bit part
informal way of behaving, esp one intended to create a particular impressionshe's doing the prima donna bit
a bit rather; somewhata bit dreary
a bit of
  1. rathera bit of a dope
  2. a considerable amountthat must take quite a bit of courage
a bit of all right, a bit of crumpet, a bit of stuff or a bit of tail British slang a sexually attractive woman
bit by bit gradually
bit on the side informal an extramarital affair
do one's bit to make one's expected contribution
every bit (foll by as) to the same degreeshe was every bit as clever as her brother
not a bit or not a bit of it not in the slightest; not at all
to bits completely apartto fall to bits

Word Origin for bit

Old English bite action of biting; see bite




a metal mouthpiece, for controlling a horse on a bridle
anything that restrains or curbs
take the bit in one's teeth, take the bit between one's teeth, have the bit in one's teeth or have the bit between one's teeth
  1. to undertake a task with determination
  2. to rebel against control
a cutting or drilling tool, part, or head in a brace, drill, etc
the blade of a woodworking plane
the part of a pair of pincers designed to grasp an object
the copper end of a soldering iron
the part of a key that engages the levers of a lock

verb bits, bitting or bitted (tr)

to put a bit in the mouth of (a horse)
to restrain; curb

Word Origin for bit

Old English bita; related to Old English bītan to bite




the past tense and (archaic) past participle of bite



noun maths computing

a single digit of binary notation, represented either by 0 or by 1
the smallest unit of information, indicating the presence or absence of a single feature
a unit of capacity of a computer, consisting of an element of its physical structure capable of being in either of two states, such as a switch with on and off positions, or a microscopic magnet capable of alignment in two directions

Word Origin for bit

C20: from abbreviation of binary digit
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for bit by bit



"small piece," c.1200; related Old English bite "act of biting," and bita "piece bitten off," probably are the source of the modern words meaning "boring-piece of a drill" (1590s), "mouthpiece of a horse's bridle" (mid-14c.), and "a piece bitten off, morsel" (c.1000). All from Proto-Germanic *biton (cf. Old Saxon biti, Old Norse bit, Old Frisian bite, Middle Dutch bete, Old High German bizzo "biting," German Bissen "a bite, morsel"), from PIE root *bheid- "to split" (see fissure).

Meaning "small piece, fragment" is from c.1600. Sense of "short space of time" is 1650s. Theatrical bit part is from 1909. Money sense in two bits, etc. is originally from Southern U.S. and West Indies, in reference to silver wedges cut or stamped from Spanish dollars (later Mexican reals); transferred to "eighth of a dollar."



computerese word, 1948 abbreviation coined by U.S. computer pioneer John W. Tukey (1915-2000) of binary digit, probably chosen for its identity with bit (n.1).



past tense of bite.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Science definitions for bit by bit



The smallest unit of computer memory. A bit holds one of two possible values, either of the binary digits 0 or 1. The term comes from the phrase binary digit. See Note at byte.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Culture definitions for bit by bit


The smallest unit of information. One bit corresponds to a “yes” or “no.” Some examples of a bit of information: whether a light is on or off, whether a switch (like a transistor) is on or off, whether a grain of magnetized iron points up or down.


The information in a digital computer is stored in the form of bits.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with bit by bit

bit by bit

Also, little by little. Gradually, by small degrees, slowly. For example, The squirrels dug up the lawn bit by bit, till we had almost no grass, or Little by little he began to understand what John was getting at. The first term was first recorded in 1849, although bit in the sense of “small amount” is much older; the variant dates from the 1400s.


In addition to the idiom beginning with bit

  • bit by bit
  • bite off more than one can chew
  • bite one's nails
  • bite one's tongue
  • bite someone's head off
  • bite the bullet
  • bite the dust
  • bite the hand that feeds you

also see:

  • a bit
  • champ at the bit
  • do one's bit
  • every bit
  • not a bit
  • quite a bit
  • take the bit in one's mouth
  • two bits
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.