\ ˈtü-ˈbit How to pronounce two-bit (audio) \

Definition of two-bit

1 : cheap or trivial of its kind : petty, small-time a two-bit chiseler
2 : of the value of two bits

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The money-related definition of two-bit makes its etymology obvious: it is derived from the noun phrase two bits. However, two bits is an interesting phrase because it actually means "the value of a quarter of a dollar." There is no such thing as a single bit, at least not anymore. The now-obsolete Spanish dollar (also known as a peso or piece of eight) was composed of eight reales, or eight bits, so a quarter of the dollar equaled two bits. The phrase two bits carried over into U.S. usage. It first appeared in print in English in the early 1700s (and later developed the figurative sense of "something of small worth or importance"), and was followed by its adjectival relative sometime around the beginning of the 19th century. These days, the adjective has far surpassed the noun in popularity.

First Known Use of two-bit

1802, in the meaning defined at sense 2

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The first known use of two-bit was in 1802

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two bits

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Cite this Entry

“Two-bit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2022.

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