I have always been fascinated by the origins of phrases and saying. I spend some time in Great Britain and remember the phrase “spend a penny”, but never really knew where it came from.
“Spend a Penny” = using a public lavatory.
This refers to the (former) use of coin operated locks on public toilets. It was used mostly in the UK and mostly by women (men’s urinals were free of charge).
Such locks were first introduced, at a public toilet outside the Royal Exchange, London, in the 1850s. The term itself is later though. The first recorded citation of it is in H. Lewis’s Strange Story, 1945:
“‘Us girls,’ she said, ‘are going to spend a penny!'”
‘Spend a penny’ has now gone out of use, partly because charges have changed and partly because it was always a coy euphemism, which now seems rather dated. The writing was on the wall for this phrase, so to speak, from 1977, when the Daily Telegraph printed an article headed “2p to spend a penny”. (Source phrases.org.uk)
A European Newspaper today announced:
In order to meet the conditions for finally joining the Single European currency,
all citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
must be made aware that the phrase ‘Spending a Penny***’ is not longer to be used when men will go to the bathroom.
As of today.
From this date, the correct terminology will be: ‘Euronating’.
Thank you for your attention!