Saturday, February 2, 2013

Save the Penny

Be still my heart. There’s a proposal afoot to get rid of the penny. Speaking of a foot, the first thought that came to my mind when I heard this was: “Where would that leave penny loafers?” I suppose they’d have to become dime loafers; a nickel wouldn’t fit in the slot. Besides, at least one economist is advocating that the government also stop minting the nickel.

“Why?” (You may be wondering.) Simple economics. It now costs about two cents to make a penny (which contains mostly zinc today, not copper). The nickel costs ten cents to produce, so it’s hardly a cost-effective substitute for the penny. That’s why some folks feel it makes sense to kill two coins at the same time. And since we’re talking twos, two days after I post this, Canada will discontinue its penny. The U.S. will be watching what happens up north very closely. Then we’ll probably ignore it.

The plans to jettison the penny generally propose rounding sales up or down to the nearest nickel. People are calling it a ‘rounding tax,’ since so many prices end in 99 cents. If we also drop the nickel, we’ll need to round up or down to the nearest dime. If the potential financial costs to consumers aren’t enough disincentive for these proposals, here are some emotional ones to consider if we remove ‘penny’ from our collective conscience.

Getting rid of the penny would be the death knell for the penny ante. Not to get too maudlin here, but I still have the tin full of pennies that my late mother used when she played poker with her lady friends. The last member of her card group died last year at age 103.

The title (and lyrics) of the Beatles’ song Penny Lane would have to be changed. Somehow Two-Bit Alley just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

The expression: “I’m like a bad penny; I keep turning up” would lose its meaning. There would be no good pennies, and pennies in general would no longer keep turning up. I’m not sure how we’d replace this, but: “I’m like a discontinued penny; I keep rounding up” comes to mind.

Then there’s the adage: “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Not true. A penny saved would be a penny wasted. You’d need to turn them in at a bank to get anything for them, and eventually even Uncle Sam wouldn’t want them.

How about the question: “A penny for your thoughts?” Would that become “A silver dollar for your thoughts?” It’s bad enough the Tooth Fairy has suffered severe inflation over our lifetimes, but the Thought Inquirer? I shudder to think about it.

Continuing with thoughts and inflation, consider: “For what it’s worth, that’s my two cents.” Turns out your two cents has actually been worth four cents, but what would it be worth now? A quarter? Or would you be dropping a dime?

Let’s not forget “penny-wise and pound-foolish.” Seems like a penny hasn’t been wise for quite some time now, so perhaps we could just go with “pound-wise and penny-foolish.” Of course, we’re not Brits, so I guess we’d have to say “dollar-wise and penny-foolish.”

How about your Penny Valentine? If you sent her roses on February 14, would she become your Dime A Dozen Valentine? Whatever you called her and whatever you sent her, what used to cost a pretty penny would now cost an arm and a leg.

Most other ‘penny’ expressions have survived out of nostalgia, so we could keep them. Penny postcards are long gone; eventually, postcards in general will be, too. Do you know what a two-cents plain is (or was)? Think soda fountains and the depression. Penny stocks have always been a euphemism and the penny arcade morphed into the video arcade over thirty years ago. One exception is Pennysaver newspapers; I’d like to see those be pro-active on this issue and become Save-the-Penny papers.

My favorite of all these expressions is one that I hadn’t heard until I was getting fodder for this post. “I felt like a penny waiting for change.” It means you felt helpless or worthless. If the penny and the nickel were taken out of circulation, this phrase would become: “I felt like a dime waiting for change.” I think we should keep “penny” for this one and make it more existential: “I felt like a penny waiting for Godot.” Or perhaps just: “I felt like a penny waiting.” And waiting. And waiting. And nobody came.

Sniff. It’s just too sad to contemplate. Sorry. I need to go get a tissue.

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