2 bits 4 bits 6 bits a dollar..what the heck is a bit?

I have always wonder what a bit is. The old timers around here still use it sometimes.
2 bits= 25 cents
4 bits= 50 cents
6 bits =75 cents
what the heck is a bit?

4 bits = 1 nibble
8 bits = 1 byte

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

The cost of a shave and a haircut.

“Bodie, I noticed you stopped stuttering.”
“I’ve been giving myself shock treatments.”
“Up the voltage.”
-Real Genius

A bit is 1/8th of a dollar. The explanation I’ve always heard is that in the 1700s Spanish dollars were sometimes sliced up to create smaller demonination currency. So you cut a silver dollar in half, then halve the two halves, then repeat one more time to get eighths. These “pieces of eight” were also known as “bits”. For more info, see the “Dollar” entry at http://www.wilton.net/wordord.htm (Ignore the fact that this entry gives a incorrect explanation for the origin of the dollar sign. Cecil’s correct answer on that topic is at: http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a3_178.html ).

Flypsyde stated: The cost of a shave and a haircut. Not in the form of a question, and only half right, since the topic was “a bit”, not “two bits”.

You have started the math quite correctly, so if we indeed continue the math, we take the 25 cents = 2 bits gives us 12.5 cents = 1 bit.

We find if we also check our math with the 4, 6 and 8 bit amounts we come up with the same 12.5 cents.

So mathematically, it is 12.5 cents.

The American Heritage dictionary, lists a bit as 1/8 of a dollar. Now you probably ask “Why would they do that? There has never been a 12.5 cent piece.”

It seems that it may stem from England. Bit is also listed as British for a small coin. In our language, it was always referred to as two bits.

My dictionary does not give any more than that. I also cannot find any thing in the archives.


The Spanish gold Dollar was frequently cut up into eights, which is why they were also called “pieces of eight”.

The dollar was much more common in the colonies than the English guinea, and so was chosen as the basis of US currency, although the currency was decimalized. The “bit”, for some reason, remained in speech for 200 years, although it has been disappearing in my lifetime.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

I once called an ex-girlfriend a “two-bit whore”. That was just before she smacked up side the head with a bag of quarters.

Elmer J. Fudd,
I own a mansion and a yacht.

hahah Elmer…an oldie but goodie…I love those cheap shots!


I hate to re-cover old material (well, not really :wink: ) but:

2 bits:
{crumb}, {quad}, {quarter}, tayste

4 bits:

5 bits:

8 bits:

10 bits:

16 bits:
      playte, {chawmp} (on a 32-bit machine), word (on a 16-bit
      machine), half-word (on a 32-bit machine).

18 bits:
      {chawmp} (on a 36-bit machine), half-word (on a 36-bit

32 bits:
      dynner, {gawble} (on a 32-bit machine), word (on a 32-bit
      machine), longword (on a 16-bit machine).

      word (on a 36-bit machine)

48 bits:
      {gawble} (under circumstances that remain obscure)

64 bits
      double word (on a 32-bit machine)

(From the Jargon File 4.1.1)

IIRC, the “bit” also survives in the stock market: i.e. “IBM is down five-eighths today.”

It’s a long way to heaven, but only three short steps to hell.

Not for long, J String. As of 7/3/2000, 40 (as-yet unchosen) stocks will begin trading worldwide in dollars and cents in five cent divisions, abandoning quarters, eights, sixteenths, etc. Beginning 8/7/2000, all stocks and stock options will be quoted in decimals and in five-cent increments.

The exchanges hope to sell a lot more stocks this way; when they added sixteenths last year, they saw an increase in sales. Anticipated increases from changing to penny increments could be up to 9%.

"I prefer shows of the genre, “World’s Blankiest Blank.”

I believed Cecil answered this a while back in his column. Anyway, if I remember the answer correctly, a bit was originally made when someone was trying to counterfit dimes (pretty stupid, huh?) and actually put more silver into the counterfits than an actual dime was worth (even stupider) hence it was worth more than the actual dime. I will try to find the reference now.


Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter

Actually, despite the laudatory press releases from the SEC, the exchanges and the industry fought “teenies” and decimalization tooth and nail, for fear that the possible increased volume would be overwhelmed by the certain decreased spreads and because they thought everyone’s IT departments would be too busy with Y2K, 24-hour trading and internet trading to work out the details.

It was Arthur Levitt over at the SEC that dragged the exchanges into the 20th century just in time for the 21st. And he was right. As you point out, the increased volumes brought about by “teenie” spreads have already swamped the lower spreads, and the IT departments did just fine.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

SqrlCub, after telling us a very, umm, charming story, concluded with: I will try to find the reference now.

Alright, this should be interesting. Are we allowed to place bets here? If so, I want to bet 100 billion dollars that, sad to say, SqrlCub has started hallucinating again.