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)?

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    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). May 11, 2012 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, 2012 at 21:19
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    @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. May 11, 2012 at 21:33

3 Answers 3


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


'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."


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.


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.


Depending on the company one keeps "doing a bid" isn't uncommon at all.

For example in the lyrics for Slippin’ by DMX.

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