When a character is given suspicious payment, they will often bite into it to check if it's genuine.
This may seem odd, but was actually a common way to check the quality of gold: but not for the reasons people often assume. Gold is a soft metal, and thus conventional wisdom says that the deeper the imprint your teeth make (without revealing a different metal beneath the gold), the purer it is. However, this test would not be foolproof: Gold coins can have a core of lead (for the weight) which is
soft enough to leave bite marks in. In fact, historically, gold was typically alloyed with other, harder metals to make it harder, while still maintaining the standard gold weight. Thus, the bite test was actually a means of detecting a lead forgery (teeth marks) versus a real minted gold alloy coin (no marks).
This tradition has mostly vanished in real life, due to most people not actually dealing with gold, but it is still seen occasionally in fiction. It's also quite common to see characters using this method to check other things
to see if they're genuine. This method does work with pearls, wherein the goal is to feel the rough mother of pearl against the enamel of your teeth, as opposed to the smoother feel of fake pearls. If this is done with silver coins, though, it's a clear sign that somebody goofed; silver is quite hard, so the only sure way to check if there's some other metal beneath the surface is to drill a hole in it. Back when it was still profitable to counterfeit nickels or other low-value coins, the counterfeits were sometimes made out of wood and paintednote
; this could be easily distinguished by biting one.
As an interesting side-note, gold is very unreactive and therefore biologically inert, meaning it's actually safe to eat it. Some especially fancy foods are decorated with actual gold leaf that you can eat along with the rest of it.
Related is Hear Me the Money
, when they check the currency by listening to it
open/close all folders
- A common method of testing coins in the Berserk universe. Guts does this with a coin of his pay after killing Bazuso.
- Buu does this to a coin in Dragon Ball, but it's not to see if it's gold, but to see if it's candy.
- Spice and Wolf has an instance that falls somewhere between this and Hear Me the Money. Holo is able judge the purity of silver coins just by clinking them together, leading to the plot point that a city is minting coins that have a lower silver content and are thus worth less.
- Hellboy II: The Golden Army has a goblin blacksmith who bites on a piece of metal. It's not gold, but he bites it anyway.
- In Bloodsport, one of the Kumite staff in charge of wiping blood off the fighting platform notices a gold tooth lying there after one of the fights. He quickly grabs it, bites it and, after being satisfied that it's gold, pockets it with a big smile.
- One of the characters in Leprechaun accidentally swallows one of the eponymous leprechaun's coins while doing this (he's not that bright). The best part is the Leprechaun's plan to get it out: slash the guy's gut open using the buckle on his hat.
- In Sharktopus a girl with a metal detector finds an old coin buried on a beach. The shark-octopus hybrid the drags her off and eats her. An old man who was watching the whole thing then nonchalantly takes the coin, and bites it to see if it's real. For bonus points, he's played by Roger Corman.
- Used in A Song of Ice and Fire quite regularly. In one book, a young girl does this because she's seen other people do it, but confesses that she doesn't know how gold is 'supposed to taste'.
- And in another, a character is given a gold coin in a shady back alley as payment for a theft, bites into it, and promptly collapses onto the cobblestones, as the coin was apparently poisoned.
- In A Dance with Dragons, Arya thinks of the very same trick for her first assassination for the Faceless Men, but takes it a step further. During what seems like a botched pickpocketing attempt, she slips a poisoned coin into the purse of an insurance man's customer, leaving the insurer to die of an apparent heart attack a while after he bites the gold. Not only is it impossible to trace the death back to Arya, it doesn't even look like an assassination.
- In the Tom Holt novel Snow White and the Seven Samurai, this is used to test coins. It's then revealed that the characters are in a fairyland-style world, and that the currency is chocolate money.
- Variation: In the Robert A. Heinlein novel Job A Comedy Of Justice, Alex and Marga are mysteriously shunted from one alternate world to another at random, which makes it impossible to build up a cash reserve as every America's money is different; Alex always has to go to work as a dishwasher. In one world they still use gold and silver coins. When Alex spends a gold dollar, the merchant takes out a bottle of acid and puts a drop on the coin to make sure it won't corrode — the "acid test." Silver coins are bounced on the counter to make sure they ring the right way — the "ring of truth."
- This is also why many old mechanical cash registers had marble shelves above the cash drawer. Gave an easy place to test the sound of the coins.
- Sort of Subverted in Discworld novel Lords and Ladies, Ridcully loses $8,000 at "Cripple Mr. Onion" to Casanunda, a self proclaimed "outrageous liar" who "cannot play it very well." As he pays up, Casanundra stops him without even biting into it:
Casanunda: You don't happen to have 'outrageous liar' on your visiting card, by any chance?
Casanunda: It's just that I can recognize chocolate money when I see it.
- Tasty gold indeed!
- In Guards! Guards! the dragon is offered the newly forged crown, and licks it. They're very chemically sensitive apparently. Vimes considers the chances of the crown actually being made out of gold, then compares the situation to finding out that sugar was actually salt after having put three spoonfuls in your coffee. The dragon then overkills the priest who gave it the crown (shooting a flame so hot that nothing is left but smoke); suffice to say, the dragon wasn't amused.
- The protagonist of children's novel The Chocolate Touch has seen people do this, so he bites his best friend's new coin. Unfortunately, anything he touches with his mouth turns to chocolate, so his friend now has a worthless chocolate coin.
- In Assassins of Gor Tarl offers a blind chessplayer a doubleweight gold coin if he won the game. The chessplayer felt, bit, and tasted the gold to make sure it was real.
- Mentioned in the Cartoon History of the Universe in the leadup to Archimedes' famous discovery: the king needed a way to determine whether his crowns were counterfeit without having to rely on this trope.
Live Action TV
- Subverted in Firefly—Mal is trying to offload some stolen goods (which look like a stack of gold bricks). The buyer bites into it and chews - it's revealed that the bricks were actually highly condensed food in some sort of foil wrapping, invaluable on a newly terraformed frontier world.
- An episode of CSI: Miami featured a child kidnapper who asked for a ransom of jewelry. When the father of the kidnapped child arrives with the ransom the kidnapper bites an emerald to test if it's real. Turns out it's not, and the kidnapper promptly adds murderer to his résumé.
- Then there's the "Time's Arrow" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Data uses his communicator to buy into a poker game in 19th-century San Francisco, and is asked about its value. He cites various valuable metals, and while he is, one player grabs it and takes a sample bite/lick, then pronounces 'gold' before Data can get there.
- The episode "The Last Outpost" has the Ferengi stealing the Away Team's commbadges. One tastes it and pronounces it to be gold.
- This was a first-season episode and as such it predates gold-pressed latinum—a metallic liquid valued precisely because it can't be replicated, suspended in a now-worthless metal because someone "got tired of making change with an eyedropper", which, in the Deep Space Nine episode "Who Mourns for Morn?" is shown to have its "own ring of truth."
- Briefly parodied in Fawlty Towers, when Basil Fawlty makes a small show of biting then tossing away a paper check, given to him by a guest whom he had just discovered was a con man.
- MASH showed the pearl variant: Frank Burns bought both real and fake pearls to give to both his wife and Margaret, respectively. Margaret tested to see if they were real (they weren't, but she lies in order to manipulate him into secretly giving her the real ones that she saw him switch with the fakes.)
- As noted on QI, this trope is inverted in the modern gold industry, where gold coins are almost never sold in the pure 24K form (soft gold wears out easily, and coin collectors do not take it kindly if their collection starts turning into gold dust), but are usually hardened. Nowadays if you get a chewy gold coin, it is more likely you got a lead dud.
- The 2000 Mini Series of Arabian Nights has Aladdin's mother biting the gold the Ethnic Magician gave her son.
Aladdin: Mom, that was the first thing I did!
- A variation in the episode Goblin's Gold in Merlin. When a character is possessed by a goblin he begins to lick gold pieces - not to check its authenticity, but because it tastes good.
- A diamond variant is shown in an episode of NCIS. While dealing with a case involving multiple fiancées and their missing money, Di Nozzo suggests the money might have been spent on the diamond in one of the engagement rings. Ziva disproves this notion by breathing on the diamond, saying that a real one wouldn't collect condensation like this one did.
- One episode of Mathnet has a gemologist test a pearl's authenticity by popping it his mouth.
Henchman: I thought he was squirrelly, but don't they usually go for acorns?
: It's a test! Real pearls have tiny surface crystals that grate at the teeth. This one is as smooth as a baby's...knee
- A common micro-magic illusion based on this trope involves the magician biting a coin and taking a chunk out of it. The magician usually leaves behind tooth marks as well. The illusion can involve a spectator's coin, which is returned unharmed.
- Possibly the only common example in the Real Life modern world is how Olympic athletes will often get photos taken with them biting their gold medals (as the USA Gymnastics team at the 2012 London Olympics can be seen doinghere◊). They don't actually press hard enough to make teeth marks, of course; it's more reference to the trope than usage of it.
- That, and the fact that the Olympic gold medal is over 90% silver because pure gold medals for a whole games would cost millions.
- Rafael Nadal, former number one tennis player, typically bites the trophy for his championship photos.
- Parodied in Exalted, where the primary currency in heaven is ambrosia, a golden substance that tastes like the most wonderful food ever, wrapped in a thin golden foil. Yes, Heaven pays people in chocolate coins. New employees are often warned not to eat their operational budget.
- It's also functional currency. In Heaven, one of those coins can be turned into anything from a feast finer than any mortal has ever seen, to the finest clothing imaginable, or weapons of the finest craftmanship...or pretty much anything, really.
- In some productions of Cats, Skimbleshanks mimes biting a coin received from another cat during his big number.
- In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, one of the characters bites Phoenix's attorney badge to see if it is real or not. She then admits that she has no idea whether a real badge would have a bite mark or not.
- In the Infocom game Sorcerer, you acquire a collection of Zorkmids. If you choose to BITE ZORKMID, the game replies "Yep, it's real."
- Avatar The Last Airbender:
- The name comes from a Lampshade Hanging in "The Waterbending Master", where, after receiving payment for a job, a pirate bites into one of the gold coins and announces "That's some tasty gold!"
- In the episode "Sokka's Master", Sokka tries to determine the quality of steel by lightly chomping on it.
- Underdog's Secret Identity, ShoeShine Boy, often bit his coins.
- Happens regularly in Scooby-Doo.
- In The Simpsons an old man bites a paper cheque to see if it's genuine.
- Disney's Pinocchio plays with this a bit; when the eponymous puppet gets conned into joining unscrupulous puppet show owner Stromboli's spectacle, said owner finds a foreign (vaguely Chinese) coin among the otherwise all-gold profits of the day. He uses the bite test on the coin, and it does bend, but Stromboli takes it as a sign that the foreign coin is worthless and hands it to Pinocchio as his "share" of the profits.
- Sponge Bob Square Pants once bit on a quarter Patrick gave him, even though he had given Patrick that same quarter just moments before. Spoofed when all of Squidward's coins bend, yet he accepts them without question.
- Ed Edd N Eddy once had Eddy biting a coin he got from Kevin. He ends up with splinters on his tongue, and he shouts after Kevin "Your wooden money's no good here!"
- Wakfu had Ruel feed chocolate coin to a consuming genie that got stronger the more it ate things, particularly tasty gold. The genie didn't bite before swallowing, and turned into a puny chocolate genie.
- The Protagonists of Ben 10 Alien Force once encountered a race of aliens that eat popcorn and poop out gold, Kevin performs this test on one of the droppings.
- Matthew McCreep in The Smurfs And The Magic Flute takes a bite on a coin while he's busy counting up the stolen loot.
- In the Puss in Boots mini movie "The Three Diablos", Puss gives the three kittens one gold coin each. The first two do the standard bite to see if it's genuine and the third one tries copying them by swallowing the coin whole.
- The paparazzi tend to encourage gold meal winners at sporting events such as the Olympic Games to pretend to bite their medals, as apparently it makes for a good photo-op.