AskDefine | Define penny

Dictionary Definition



1 a fractional monetary unit of Ireland and the United Kingdom; equal to one hundredth of a pound
2 a coin worth one-hundredth of the value of the basic unit [syn: cent, centime] [also: pence (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Penny



  • 'pɛni
  • /


From penning, pennig possibly from .


penny (plural: pennies when referring to individual coins; (UK) pence when referring to an amount of money)
  1. In the context of "formerly": In the United Kingdom and Ireland, a copper coin worth 1/240 of a pound sterling or Irish pound before decimalisation. Abbreviation: d.
  2. In the United Kingdom, a copper coin worth 1/100 of a pound sterling; also formerly in Ireland, a coin worth 1/100 of an Irish pound before the introduction of the euro. Abbreviation: p.
  3. In the US and Canada, a one-cent coin, worth 1/100 of a dollar. Abbreviation: ¢.
  4. In various countries, a small denomination copper or brass coin.
  5. A unit of nail size, said to be either the cost per 100 nails, or the number of nails per penny. Abbreviation: d.


  • (1/240 of a pound sterling): old penny
  • (1/100 of a pound sterling): new penny (old-fashioned)
  • (one-cent coin): cent


1/240 of a pound sterling or Irish pound
1/100 of a pound sterling or Irish pound
one-cent coin in US and Canada See cent
Derived terms


  1. To jam a door shut by inserting pennies between the door frame and the door.
    Zach and Ben had only been at college for a week when their door was pennied by the girls down the hall.
  2. In the context of "jargon": To circumvent the tripping of an electrical circuit breaker by the dangerous practice of inserting a coin in place of a fuse in a fuse socket.

See also

Extensive Definition

A penny (pl. pence or pennies) is a coin or a unit of currency used in several English-speaking countries.


In the 8th century, Charlemagne declared that 240 pennies or pfennigs should be minted from a pound of silver. A single coin thus contained about 1.9 grams of silver. (Today, this amount of silver would cost about 56p sterling.)
The penny is among the lowest denomination of coins in circulation.
In addition, variants of the word penny, with which they share a common root, are or were the names of certain units of currency in non-English-speaking countries:
In the United States and Canada, "penny" is normally used to refer to the coin; the quantity of money is a "cent." Elsewhere in the English-speaking world, the plural of "penny" is "pence" when referring to a quantity of money and "pennies" when referring to a number of coins. Thus a coin worth five times as much as one penny is worth five pence, but "five pennies" means five coins, each of which is a penny.
When dealing with British or Irish (pound) money, amounts of the decimal "new pence" less than £1 may be suffixed with "p", as in 2p, 5p, 26p, 72p. Pre-1971 amounts of less than 1/- (one shilling) were denoted with a "d" which derived from the term "denarius", as in 2d, 6d, 10d. The lettering "new pence" was changed to "pence" on British decimal coinage in 1982. Irish pound decimal coinage only used "p" to designate units (possibly as this sufficed for both the English word "pence", and Irish form "pingin").
The British penny as a unit of currency dates back well over a thousand years, and for most of that period the silver penny was the principal denomination in circulation.

Other uses

To "spend a penny" in British idiom means to urinate. The etymology of the phrase is literal; some public toilets used to be coin-operated, with a pre-decimal penny being the charge levied. Eventually, at around the same time as the introduction of decimal coinage, British Rail gradually introduced better public toilets with the name Superloo and the much higher charge of 6d.
Finding a penny is sometimes considered lucky and gives rise to the saying, "Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day: you'll have good luck." This may be a corruption of "See a pin and pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck" and similar verses, as quoted in The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore and other sources.


In the US, the length of a nail is designated by its penny size. This unit's abbreviation is d (e.g. 10d for 10 penny nails), as for British pence before decimalization. A smaller number indicates a shorter nail and a larger number indicates a longer nail. Nails under 1¼ in., often called brads, are sold mostly in small packages with only a length designation (e.g. ½" (12 mm), 1" (28 mm), etc.).
It is commonly believed that the origin of the term "penny" in relation to nail size is based on the old custom in England of selling nails by the hundred. A hundred nails that sold for six pence were "six penny" nails. The larger the nail, the more a hundred nails would cost, hence the larger nails have a larger number for their penny size. This classification system was still used in England in the 18th century, but is obsolete there now.


The physical handling and counting of pennies creates transaction costs that may be higher than a penny per penny spent. Furthermore, as has been claimed for micropayments, due to mental transaction costs one penny may exceed the useful price granularity of almost all products and services sold over the counter—granularities of five or ten pence may be sufficient. Also, inflation periodically causes the metal value of pennies to exceed their face value, making them wasteful to mint. Several nations have stopped minting equivalent value coins, and efforts have been made to end the routine use of pennies in several countries, including Canada and the United States.


External links

  • The MegaPenny Project - A visualisation of what exponential numbers of pennies would look like.
  • Silver Pennies - Pictures of English silver pennies from Anglo-Saxon times to the present.
  • Copper Pennies - Pictures of English copper pennies from 1797 to 1860.
penny in Catalan: Penic
penny in German: Penny (Münze)
penny in Spanish: Penique
penny in French: Penny
penny in Irish: Pingin
penny in Italian: Penny
penny in Hebrew: פני
penny in Dutch: Penny (munt)
penny in Japanese: ペニー
penny in Polish: Pens
penny in Portuguese: Penny
penny in Russian: Пенни
penny in Simple English: Penny
penny in Swedish: Penny
penny in Thai: เพนนี
penny in Tamil: பென்னி
penny in Chinese: 便士

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

C, C-note, G, G-note, bawbee, buck, cartwheel, cent, century, copper, crown, dime, dollar, dollar bill, farthing, fifty cents, fin, fish, five cents, five hundred dollars, five-dollar bill, five-hundred-dollar bill, five-spot, fiver, florin, four bits, fourpence, fourpenny, frogskin, grand, groat, guinea, half G, half a C, half crown, half dollar, half grand, halfpenny, hundred-dollar bill, iron man, mag, meg, mill, mite, monkey, new pence, nickel, np, p, pence, pony, pound, quarter, quid, red cent, sawbuck, shilling, silver dollar, sixpence, skin, smacker, ten cents, ten-spot, tenner, thousand dollars, thousand-dollar bill, threepence, threepenny bit, thrippence, tuppence, twenty-dollar bill, twenty-five cents, two bits, two-dollar bill, two-spot, twopence, yard
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