Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Going to prison is called "doing a bid". What's the history behind that? Is it based on "doing bird" (based on being locked up like a bird)?

share|improve this question
2  
It's not exactly common, but it does seem to be very much a recent Americanism. My guess is it probably originates in a misrendering of the British "doing bird" (which never includes the indefinite article). –  FumbleFingers May 11 '12 at 21:16
    
It is definitely "bid"? Not "bit", as in "doing a bit of bird" or "doing a bit of time"? Or maybe even a misrendering of that? –  Andrew Leach May 11 '12 at 21:19
    
@Andrew Leach: It's not common (I certainly never heard it before), but doing a bit definitely does exist with this meaning. I notice several instances of words like ain't cool, niggas, mom, upstate in the surrounding context of those citations, which is why I say it's American. –  FumbleFingers May 11 '12 at 21:33
add comment

2 Answers

Hollywood once again gets it wrong. It is most emphatically called "doing a bit", not a bid. If your sentence is 10 years it's easier to do it bit by bit, when in prison anything done to pass the time is called bittin. I should know because I did a bit. I can assure you it wasn't an auction.

share|improve this answer
add comment

It appears that 'doing a bit' goes back to the early 20th century as a term for serving a prison sentence.

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bit#Noun

'Bit' meaning a short span of time goes back to the 17th century, and presumably that's how it became associated with prison in the first place. "I've got to do a bit of time in prison."

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=bit&searchmode=none

I can't find any real resources as to where 'bid' came from directly, so I would assume that it is simply a result of the word shifting slightly once having gained distinct enough usage separate from its origins.

share|improve this answer
add comment

protected by RegDwigнt Dec 7 '12 at 23:19

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.