Who has the time to listen to every interview conducted by every podcast or news organization on every topic imaginable under the sun? Most of us can’t be bothered to listen through the entirety of every State of the Union address and every congressional hearing either. We just capture the gist of it and that’s why we’ve come to love the sound bite. Or is it sound byte?

Take a Bite Out of This

On some level, one might argue that either spelling can make logical sense. We oftentimes think of a “byte” as a relatively small unit of digital data, so a “sound byte” could then be a small audio clip, right? At the same time, a “bite” is a relatively small morsel of food that, well, you can eat in literally one bite. To that end, a “sound bite” is also something small that is easily consumed… right?

Even though “sound byte” may seem reasonable, the correct spelling is “sound bite.” The term first arose within the context of U.S. media some time in the 1970s. The idea is that you take a very short clip of audio (or video) that is extracted from a larger piece, like an interview or a speech. This short snippet can be used like a summary or, in many cases, it’s used as a teaser to entice viewers and listeners to watch or listen to the entire piece.

The sound bite has very much become a standard staple in this age of “gotcha journalism.” Much to the delight of late night talk show hosts, U.S. President Donald Trump seems to be particularly apt at delivering sound bites on a near daily basis. Because they are so succinct and expressive, sound bites can be taken out of context and be used for manipulative purposes.

But they can also be effective at delivering a desired message in a more concise way. It’s just a matter of which sound bites you choose and how you decide to use them.

Quotable Quotes

Even though I don’t typically include the audio itself, you can see how the Sunday Snippet series on this blog is like a series of sound bites. They’re all taken from larger works and the quotes are meant to deliver a bite-sized punch.

When I decided to highlight Danai Gurira recently, for example, I pulled out a couple of choice sentences from an hour-long interview she had with Chris Hardwick. Publishing a full transcript of that interview would have been a completely different kind of exercise.

As an aside, in addition to recognizing that “sound byte” is incorrect in this context, “sound bite” should always be written as two separate words without a hyphen too.