Origin of two bits
Words nearby two bits
What does two bits mean?
Two bits is an old slang term for 25 cents.
It’s based on the sense of the word bit that refers to one eighth of a U.S. dollar, or 12 ½ cents. However, monetary amounts counted in bits were only ever given in multiples of two, as in two bits and six bits. Two bits became an informal way of referring to the value of the 25-cent coin known as the quarter. It then came to be used in a general way meaning a small amount.
It’s still sometimes used this way, especially in negative statements, as in That piece of junk isn’t worth two bits or That job is like a vacation—I’d do it for two bits.
It is also the basis of the informal adjective two-bit, meaning inferior, cheap, worthless, or insignificant.
Two-bit is always used before the noun it describes. It’s perhaps most commonly used to negatively describe a person considered to be a small-time hack—someone who’s not good at what they do due to having a very low level of talent or skill. It’s especially used as an insult applied to people who have a high opinion of themselves to call them out as being far inferior in reality.
Describing something as two-bit means it’s low-quality. This is especially applied to products.
Example: My dad likes to tell me stories about how he used to be able to buy a whole lunch for two bits—and get change!
Where does two bits come from?
The first records of the phrase two bits in reference to 25 cents come from around the 1720s. It was first and is primarily used in the U.S.
People still sometimes say two bits to mean 25 cents, but doing so is usually an attempt to sound old-timey—especially since not much costs 25 cents anymore. For that reason, it’s more commonly used to mean a small amount. It can be used in much the same way as the figurative sense of two cents.
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How is two bits used in real life?
Two bits is very informal. When it’s used literally, it’s usually to sound old-timey.
My grandpa used to tell me stories of a time when he got to school by mule, a shave and a haircut cost two bits, and the Chicago Cubs baseball squadron won a series on the road.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) August 2, 2019
Watching a documentary about Spyhunter. Yeah, I wasted many quarters on that. Do arcade games still cost two bits? #imold
— Jesse Johnson (@jljzen) October 13, 2013
Who decided a bit would be 12.5¢? And what can you still get for two bits these days?
— Otis P.d.Q. (@OtisPdQ) August 11, 2011
Try using two bits!
Is two bits used correctly in the following sentence?
I wouldn’t pay two bits for that thing—it doesn’t even work.
How to use two bits in a sentence
Interesting that those who sat in judgment of him found those two sets of beliefs to be incompatible.
If anything the work the two cops and the maintenance guy were doing deserves more respect and probably helped a lot more people.
Toomey lives here with her husband, Mark, a managing director at Goldman Sachs, and their two daughters.How Taryn Toomey’s ‘The Class’ Became New York’s Latest Fitness Craze|Lizzie Crocker|January 9, 2015|DAILY BEAST
But no more so than the Sodexo building maintenance man or the two cops who were also killed in the crossfire.
France 24's coverage of two developing hostage situations in Paris on Friday.
The case was an assault and battery that came off between two men named Brown and Henderson.
On the thirteenth of the same month they bound to the stake, in order to burn alive, a man who had two religious in his house.
The night wore on, and the clock downstairs was striking the hour of two when she suddenly awakened.The Homesteader|Oscar Micheaux
"The Smoker," and "Mother and Daughter," a triptych, are two of her principal pictures.Women in the fine arts, from the Seventh Century B.C. to the Twentieth Century A.D.|Clara Erskine Clement
The Spaniards captured two schooners, having on board 22 officers and 30 men, all of whom were hanged or sent to the mines.The Every Day Book of History and Chronology|Joel Munsell
Other Idioms and Phrases with two bits
see under for two cents.