Losing the penny

Here in the UK our currency is the pound, which is divided into 100 pennies. Technically, they are “new pennies”. Prior to 1971, there were 20 shillings to the pound and 12 [old] pennies to the shilling. In the US and Canada, the dollar is divided into 100 cents, which are colloquially called “pennies”. The Euro is also divided into 100 cents, but I do not believe that anybody calls them pennies – not even in Germany where the Deutsch Mark used to be divided into 100 pfennigs [which is essentially the same word].

The term penny is very ingrained in the English language, but that may be temporary …

We are all familiar with many phrases that use the word “penny”. For example, you may be offered “a penny for your thoughts.” Do you know the song “Pennies from Heaven”? The term “spending a penny” is an old-fashioned euphemism for using the toilet [as a penny was once the charge in public facilities]. People still talk about “penny arcades” – places where coin-operated amusement machines are located. But what if there were no longer such a thing as a penny coin?

Some time ago, I wrote a posting that illustrated that the main use for very small coins comes about as a result of prices ending in “.99”. In certain European countries, where this practice is not common, the small coins have fallen into almost total disuse. In Australia and New Zealand the 1- and 2-cent coins have been eliminated. I read in the news that Canada is following suit. Is this the way the US and UK should go?

Personally, I am all for simplifying the currency. As it stands, in the UK [and in Euro-zone countries] we have 8 coins. reducing that to 6 seems like a good idea to me. My change always seems to get too bulky and I have a charity collection box in my hall, which receives all my 1p, 2p and 5p coins. Perhaps the charities would be losers, if this change were to be effected.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/embedded-software/2013/02/07/losing-the-penny/