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Thread: Spend a penny?

  1. #1
    charliedeut's Avatar
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    Default Spend a penny?

    Hi all,

    This expression just came to my mind. In school I was taught it was used (mainly by women/girls/ladies...) instead of the straightforward "I must go to pee". Is it still in use, or has it vanished from the speakers' habits (the expression, not the physiologic act)?

    Thank you.

    charliedeut
    Please be aware that I'm neither a native English speaker nor a teacher.

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    billmcd is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Spend a penny?

    Quote Originally Posted by charliedeut View Post
    Hi all,

    This expression just came to my mind. In school I was taught it was used (mainly by women/girls/ladies...) instead of the straightforward "I must go to pee". Is it still in use, or has it vanished from the speakers' habits (the expression, not the physiologic act)?


    Thank you.

    charliedeut
    Not heard/used in AmE, rather, among others and perhaps colloquial, "I must/have to see a man about a horse."

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Spend a penny?

    It's still used, though it's not as common as it used to be.

    It was used more by women than men, because women had to put a penny in the slot in public conveniences to open the cubicle door, whatever they wished to do inside. Men could use the urinals section of public conveniences free.
    Please do not edit your question after it has received a response. Such editing can make the response hard for others to understand.


  4. #4
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    Default Re: Spend a penny?

    My daughter just returned from Germany and is happy to be back in the land where the public restrooms are free. I said form now on, when she had to pee, she could say "I have to go spend a half-Euro." In fact, she said you had to pay it to enter the restroom at all, even if all you wanted to do was wash your hands, not even use the cubicle.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Spend a penny?

    That's the same feeling I got when I lived in Germany. To be completely fair, tough, I must say it also happened in London (so far, the only city in an English-speaking country I have been to): the feeling that you had to pay for about anything, even for window-shopping !

    charliedeut
    Please be aware that I'm neither a native English speaker nor a teacher.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Spend a penny?

    Not everywhere in London though.

    b

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    Default Re: Spend a penny?

    On the other hand, she did say that without fail, the restrooms were clean. There are many times I would have happily dropped a dollar into a container if it means the disgusting place I was called upon by nature to use would have instead been something that didn't make me shiver to go in.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Spend a penny?

    I think the phrase is dying out somewhat but it's still pretty common in people of, say, 50 and above (that's just a rough estimate).

    I would point out though that "I have to go to pee" is not very common either, in BrE! Most people tend to use "I need the loo", "I need to go to the toilet", or the rather old-fashioned but terribly polite "I have to go and powder my nose".
    Remember - correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing make posts much easier to read.

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    Default Re: Spend a penny?

    Quote Originally Posted by emsr2d2 View Post
    the rather old-fashioned but terribly polite "I have to go and powder my nose".
    I remember distinctly the first time I noticed that (though I had almost certainly heard it before). A friend and I, sophisticated men of the world at 17, decided to take our girlfriends to a rather smart restaurant. At the end of the meal, as the time to pay approached, one of the girls said to the other, "Shall we go and powder our noses?"

    I remember being struck by the quaintness of the euphemism. My grandmother and mother powdered their noses frequently - a shiny nose must have been something no 'lady' would ever expose, but teenage girls in the early 1960s never powdered their noses. They were either fresh-faced and (apparently) free of make-up, or covered in a thick mask that lasted for days without needing a top-up.

    The second thing that struck me, some time later, was the wordly wisdom of the girl who suggested the powdering. Sophisticated people (and that was what we were trying to be) never allowed a situation in which the ladies would see the gentlemen perform the sordid task of handing over money to the waiter. The departure of the ladies to powder their noses was the signal for the waiter to bring the men the bill.

    As we are well off-topic, I'll go even further astray. Until I protested violently at the farce about six years ago, my wife, influenced by her own upbringing, would, if she was taking me out for a meal, always discreetly hand me the money under the table (if she had forgotten to give it to me beforehand) when the time came to pay. She did not go as far as going to powder her nose, but she refused to publicly pay for both of us. She was a professional woman, more highly qualified than I, and earning more money - indeed, at the time of my protest, she was my boss.

    In the business world she would openly pay her share when dining with colleagues, but to be seen to be paying for the meal of a male was too much for her.
    Please do not edit your question after it has received a response. Such editing can make the response hard for others to understand.


  10. #10
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    Default Re: Spend a penny?

    It was a 'meta-euphemism': words were used to replace taboo words, but the euphemistic words were themselves a front for a strategic withdrawal: ((powder our noses = urinate) <explains> leave the room = avoid messy commerce).

    Inflation may explain Ems's 'I think the phrase is dying out somewhat but it's still pretty common in people of, say, 50 and above (that's just a rough estimate). ' You can't get anything for a penny nowadays - let alone that small fraction of what is now called a penny that was used to open a cubicle door (1d.) I fit into the right demographic (> 50), but I don't use it. When walking with friends I like to use the Shakespearean 'I will but look upon the hedge and follow thee.' Wot a card.

    b

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