bite » byte
It doesn’t help any that “byte” itself is a pun on “bite” and is accompanied by “nybble” (for
five four bits) and a few other words in the same vein. “Sound byte” seems to me to be born of our increasinly digitized world; it’s probably more common online than offline.
I have actually used this myself at least once that I know of: a few years ago I was a regular on an Australian media-watching newsgroup and inadvertently used the eggcorn to ask for more information about something I’d seen the night before. It was immediately noticed and commented upon.
Curiously, while googling for a book using the term, I found it used and defended in “Philosophical Practice” by Lou Marinoff:
My pet homonymic peeve—again symptomatic of a culture rendered senseless by fuzzy speech—is named “sound bite”. You think you know what this means, don’t you? If so, then you probably understand its reference, but not its sense. That’s because “sound-bite” is nonsense. The proper name, whos refcerence bears the intended sense, is the homonym “sound-byte.” In the technical language of digital computing, a “byte” is a chunk (or word) of data, typically eight bits in length, which is processed as a single unit of information.
I think but cannot conclusively prove that Marinoff and other defenders of this eggcorn are mistaken about the origins of “sound bite”; I remain confident that it predates readily-available digital storage of sound by some time, and in any event a single byte is not very much information at all, and definitely not enough space to store, say, a 10 or 30-second sound recording from a politician or talking head.