It Made Sense in 1978

Whenever I see this list of memory cell sizes, it strikes me as antiquated:

BYTE = 8 bits WORD = 16 bits LONG = 32 bits

Those names were standard for both the Intel x86 and Motorola 68000 families of processors, and it's easy to see where they came from. "Word" isn't synonymous with a 16-bit value; it refers to the fundamental data size that a computer architecture is built to operate upon. On a 16-bit CPU like the 8086, a word is naturally 16-bits.

Now it's 2010, and it's silly to think of a 16-bit value as a basic enough unit of data to get to the designation "word." "Long" is similarly out of place, as 32-bit microprocessors have been around for over 25 years, and yet the standard memory cell size is still labeled in a way that makes it sound abnormally large.

The PowerPC folks got this right back in the early 1990s with this nomenclature:

BYTE = 8 bits HALFWORD = 16 bits WORD = 32 bits

That made sense in 1991, and it's still rational today. (64-bit is now common, but the jump isn't nearly as critical as it was the last time memory cell size doubled. The PowerPC name for "64-bits" is "doubleword.")

Occasionally you need to reevaluate your assumptions and not just cling to something because it's always been that way.