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Two Bits

Posted by James Briggs on October 22, 2002

In Reply to: Two Bits posted by ESC on October 22, 2002

: : Today had this request from someone in the US - he had a 'wgates' in his email address, but he's not THAT one. Can any one confirm/refute/clarify? I can't. Thanks.
: : "Do you know the etymology of "two bits". In the U.S., it means a quarter (the coin worth 25 cents, or a quarter of a dollar). My grandfather told me long ago that it derives from the archaic "piece of eight", a Spanish(?) coin that was scored into eight pie shaped bits. These could be broken off to make lesser denomination coin currency. If someone had two of the pieces (broken off a piece of eight) he would have two bits, or one quarter of the whole coin."

: From the archives:
: Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982) has some detailed about "bits": ".Being worth one-eighth of a Spanish peso or Spanish dollar, the original Spanish 'real' or 'bit' was worth 12 ½ cents. Not only was this bit itself a coin, but the peso could be cut into halves, quarters or pie-shaped wedges of eights, so a bit was both a coin and a cut-off section of a peso worth the same amount. This 'bit,' being 12 ½ cents, gave us our term 'two bits' (1730, originally as two separate bits or the sum of 25 cents, then as our own 25-cent coin in 1792)."


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