Giga is derived from the Greek γίγας, meaning 'giant'. The Oxford English Dictionary reports the earliest written use of giga in this sense to be in the Reports of the IUPAC 14th Conference in 1947: "The following prefixes to abbreviations for the names of units should be used: G giga 109×".
When referring to information units in computing, such as gigabit or gigabyte, giga may sometimes mean 1073741824 (230), although such use is contrary to standards and has been discouraged by the standards organizations. The binary prefix gibi has been adopted for 230, while reserving giga exclusively for the metric definition.
This latter pronunciation was formalised within the United States in the 1960s and 1980s with the issue by the US National Bureau of Standards of pronunciation guides for the metric prefixes. A prominent example is found in the pronunciation of gigawatts in the 1985 movie Back to the Future.
According to the American writer Kevin Self, a German committee member of the International Electrotechnical Commission proposed giga as a prefix for 109 in the 1920s, drawing on a verse by the humorous poet Christian Morgenstern that appeared in the third (1908) edition of Galgenlieder (Gallows Songs). This suggests that a hard German [ɡ] was originally intended as the pronunciation. Self was unable to ascertain at what point the alternative pronunciation came into occasional use, but claimed that as of 1995 it had died out.
In 1998, a poll by the phonetician John C. Wells found that 84% of Britons preferred the pronunciation of gigabyte starting with /ɡɪ/ (as in gig), 9% with /dʒɪ/ (as in jig), 6% with /ɡaɪ/ (guy), and 1% with /dʒaɪ/ (as in giant).
- gigabyte—for instance, for hard disk capacity, 120 GB = 120000000000bytes; for file sizes 1 GB is often 1073741824 or 230 bytes, more properly termed a gibibyte (GiB) to eliminate ambiguity. The difference is rooted in base 10 and base 2 enumeration, and is also the reason why hard drives advertised as a certain capacity have less than that capacity when installed (as hard drives are advertised in gigabytes or terabytes (base 10) whereas computers format data in gibibytes or tebibytes (base 2, powers of 2). See Hard disk units of storage capacity.
- gigahertz—clock rate of a CPU, for instance, 3 GHz = 3000000000Hz
- gigabit—bandwidth of a network link, for instance, 1 Gbit/s = 1000000000bit/s.
- gigayear or gigaannum—one billion (109) years, sometimes abbreviated Gyr, but the preferred usage is Ga.
In popular culture
Films and television
- The DeLorean time machine in the 1985 American science fiction film Back to the Future requires 1.21 gigawatts (pronounced "one point twenty-one Jigga-watts") of electrical power to travel through time, according to its inventor, Doc Brown.
- "§3.1 SI prefixes" (PDF). The International System of Units (SI) (in French/English) (8th edition ed.). Paris: STEDI Media. 2006. p. 127. ISBN 92-822-2213-6. Retrieved 2007-02-25. "[Side note:] These SI prefixes refer strictly to powers of 10. They should not be used to indicate powers of 2 (for example, one kilobit represents 1000 bits and not 1024 bits). The IEC has adopted prefixes for binary powers in the international standard IEC 60027-2: 2005, third edition, Letter symbols to be used in electrical technology — Part 2: Telecommunications and electronics. The names and symbols for the prefixes corresponding to 210, 220, 230, 240, 250, and 260 are, respectively: kibi, Ki; mebi, Mi; gibi, Gi; tebi, Ti; pebi, Pi; and exbi, Ei. Thus, for example, one kibibyte would be written: 1 KiB = 210 B = 1024 B, where B denotes a byte. Although these prefixes are not part of the SI, they should be used in the field of information technology to avoid the incorrect usage of the SI prefixes."
- NIST Guide for the Use of the International System of Units (Appendix D. ref 5)
- A Practical Guide to the International System of Units, U.S. Metric Association, Feb 2008
- NBS Special Publication 304 & 304A, revised August 1981, "A Brief History of Measurement Systems"
- Kevin Self, April 1995, "Technically speaking", Spectrum
- Wells, J.C. (1998). LPD pronunciation preference poll 1998.
- Back to the Future (1985). Trivia. IMDB (2013).
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