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I often find a joke titled, ‘When a grandma goes to court’ followed by the line, ‘Lawyers should never ask a question if they aren’t prepared for the answer.’

I don’t know if it’s a popular joke or not. It deals with an elderly woman called to the stand as the first witness. She knows everything about the background and secrets of both prosecuting and defense attorneys.

Realizing that she knows too much, the judge asks both attorneys to come to the bench and tells, “If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I’ll send you both to the electric chair.”

In this joke, the old woman says to the prosecuting attorney, "You think you are some big shot on the rise, but you don't have the brains to realize you are nothing more than a 'two-bit paper pusher.' Yes sir, I know you!"

What does “two-bit paper pusher” mean?

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Heh. 'A lawyer should never ask a question without knowing what the answer will be' is a maxim that occurs several times in the Rumpole stories. It seems good advice too. :-) –  ShreevatsaR Mar 3 '11 at 9:50

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It means that she considers the attorney to be an unimportant clerk rather than an important lawyer

Two bit: small change (ie cheap/unimportant, in this context)-

According to WikiPedia A bit is :

The word bit is a colloquial expression referring to specific coins in various coinages throughout the world.
"Two bits" or "two bit" continues in general use as a colloquial expression, primarily because of the song catchphrase "Shave and a Haircut, two bits." As an adjective, "two-bit" can be used to describe something cheap or unworthy.

Paper pusher: someone who does nothing but push paper around on a desk or delivers paper from one office to another in a push cart

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@YoichiOishi Thanks for the accept. I knew this off the top of my head but added the WikiPedia which was more elaborate than the dictionary entries and had a reference to a lovely bit of lore "Shave and a haircut, two bits" youtube.com/watch?v=jIBK7UxRTqE&t=5m50s –  mplungjan Mar 3 '11 at 13:25
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More specifically, paper pusher means a low-level clerk. Back before computers, most people in offices were not decision makers but clerks carrying out paper based programs based on rule sets like:"If box B on form xx is checked then check Box Z on form yy and put it the outbox to department Q" It was boring and tedious work but like most boring and tedious work, very necessary. But it didn't take a lot brains or training so they weren't paid very well. In the status hierarchy of the office, they were on the bottom. The insult reflects that status. –  TechZen May 8 at 4:50

'two-bit' means 'petty, insignificant'. 'paper pusher' is a term used for office workers who do paperwork.

In this context, the term 'two-bit paper pusher' is being used as a put-down or a mild insult. The old woman considers the attorney to be working in a menial job; this is further clarified by her saying she does not think the attorney is a 'big shot'.

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When used literally, two bits is the same as 25 cents, or 'a quarter'.

I had always assumed that this derived from the term 'pieces of eight'. If a whole 'dollar' is divided into eight equal bits, then two bits are equal to a quarter. I do not know if this is the true origin or not.

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Ye, I believe that "bits" comes from "pieces of eight." –  Tom Au Jun 29 '11 at 1:32
    
The term originates from the days when "dollars" were pure gold spanish coins. They were to big to use in ordinary use so they were sectioned crudely with knives. 8 divisions being the easiest for a circular coin. So, 8 bits make one dollar and two bits make a quarter of a dollar. Real historical bits are big collectors items. –  TechZen May 8 at 4:46

Two bits means "twenty-five cents" which means "cheap" or "low paid."

"Paper pusher" means "petty bureaucrat," not a decision maker.

So a "two bit paper pusher" means "a low-paid, petty bureaucrat."

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"25c" depends on context. In England, for example, "bit" was most commonly associated with the pre-decimal 3p coin, so "two bit" would mean six pence. –  Jules Feb 2 at 9:42

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