Sunday, 5 January 2014


I suppose we all have relatives who are, shall we say, less welcome guests than others. 

My Grandmother used to say of my uncle, 'he always turns up like a bad penny'. Most people know the phrase but what does it mean and what are its origins?

One wrong suggestion which I've encountered is that it is to do with tossing a coin. Because there is a version of the phrase which goes 'a bad penny always turns up' some think it means that a bad penny keeps being heads or tails instead of giving a 50-50 chance.

The actual origin is at least from the 18th century when pennies were valuable coins. This made them juicy targets for counterfeiters, and discovering that you had such a counterfeit coin, a “bad” penny, was very annoying.  

The best solution if you got a “bad penny” was to try to spend it quickly and hope that the shopkeeper wouldn't notice it.  

Unfortunately though, because so many people were trying to use their “bad pennies” this way, the odds of encountering one, or even the very same one you had got rid of a week earlier, were quite high.  Thus “bad penny” became an idiom meaning “an unwanted thing that keeps showing up.”

Just like my Uncle used to do.

1 comment:

  1. I have a burning desire to open my own farm stand, call it Bad Penny’s Produce, and make my motto “We always turnip.”