NPR had a segment the other day that brought back up the movement toward getting rid of the penny. It’s hardly the first time that discussions have centered around how useful the penny is or isn’t. In fact, in 2002, Rep. Jim Kolbe introduced the Legal Tender Modernization Act and in 2006 he introduced the Currency Overhaul for an Industrious Nation (COIN) Act, both failed attempts at doing away with the penny once and for all.
To be completely honest, I’ve never given much thought to it and this isn’t much about the actual use or need or relevance attached to the penny as a monetary unit. No, something else struck me as potentially consequential during the drive time discussion. What happens to the sayings attached to the penny when the penny doesn’t mean anything to a new generation? In for a penny, in for a pound. A penny saved is a penny earned. Penny for your thoughts. What impact does it have on writers when language loses value as currency does?
I’m no Luddite clinging desperately to the meaningful things of my past to make sense of the world. I don’t fear change. Thankfully, since things have been upgrading and updating every other minute since I was born, I’ve learned to adapt and embrace the new without mourning for the old. And yet I can’t help but wonder what happens to our language when we’ve phase out things peculiar to it.
In for a nickel, in for a pound loses the alliteration that makes it catchy. Dime for your thoughts seems almost nonsensical even if paying a penny for a thought never made any more sense. And while anything saved is something technically earned, that’s actually a quote attributed to Ben Franklin and shouldn’t be adjusted without reanimating the old fellow and asking for his own newer and more relevant version. Perhaps I’m being ridiculously sentimental, but it occurs to me that we risk losing touch with the language our ancestors grew up with. Does it make me a prosophobe if I don’t want to swap penny wise, pound foolish for off the chain or in the hizzy?