No more pennies…

spend a penny

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

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!

Fool me once

5 thoughts on “No more pennies…

  1. I remember some nice poetry in those lonely forlorn wooden penny toilets of Australia;

    ” there I sat, broken hearted
    spent my penny
    only farted”

    or, somewhat more robust
    ‘ don’t be a fool
    Pull the chain
    and not your tool”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to have a book called “Updike’s Lexicon” which gave the derivation of all kinds of phrases. I think this was one of the many things I learnt, for no special reason 🙂 I’m glad that finally pay toilets have disappeared. I remember crawling under the door in desperation because I had no money or no change.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know, I almost forgot about the pay toilets until today when I read the article. You are right, I remember some desperate moments. Holding the door open for the woman behind you…or asking the Lady in front of you, if she might hold the door open. Great Britain was very confusing for me. I spent a few months there, after I just had learned English here in the US. I had no idea who “Loo” was, but somehow they wanted me to meet her before, I was able to go the bathroom. I could fill pages and pages about all the funny things that happened to me, when I was not so fluent in languages, but always acted like I was :-).


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