Author Topic: Spend a penny.  (Read 53 times)

Online Talk Merit

Spend a penny.
« on: October 14, 2018, 07:49:18 PM »
"Spend a penny" is an euphemism for the perfoming of the action that one would undertake in a public convenience ( restroom ). There is a fairly simple explanation for the origin of the phrase. Many early conveniences made a small charge for the use of the facility. This was a copper penny coin, and in days before the decimalisation of Sterling, its value was one 240th of a Pound. A brass box was attached to the outside of the entrance door to a cubicle or room, and the penny was dropped into a slot in the top of the box. This moved a locking pin, and a handle could be turned to allow the dooor to be opened.

Many public conveniences provided free access to a urinal for men, and thus men were only required to "spend a penny" for more serious functions. Women were not provided with a free facility, and this provoked numerous complaints at the time. Men tend to have more direct language when commenting on bodily functions, so the expression tended to be used by the ladies more often than the men. Hence it's use to describe an action that would have been free for men.

As a related topic, many people believe that Thomas Crapper invented the flush toilet, and a short form of his surname is sometimes used as a colloquialism for its use. This is not based on fact. Thomas Crapper was a plumber in the late 19th century, and he founded a company which is still in existence. The toilet was invented by Sir John Harington in the 16th century, and some people still use the name "John" to refer to the device.

On a further historical note -The ancient Romans had a system of sewers, and rooms with communal seats were provided above these sewers. Of course, they didn't have paper in those days,and they used a stick with an associated water or vinegar bucket near by. The stick had a sponge on one end, and this is the origin of the expression "don't grab the wrong end of the stick".
« Last Edit: October 14, 2018, 07:58:29 PM by Talk Merit »