"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Spend a penny

I came across mention of someone joining “a queue to spend 1d” in a 1945 diary and was not certain that the modern generation would understand the reference. It’s a long time since I heard it though it was quite commonly used in our household when I was young.

The penny, or sometimes a halfpence, was the cost of using a public toilet. Often gents urinals were free but ladies (or gents with other needs) had to spend a penny as each cubicle had a coin operated lock on the door. Keeping 1d in your purse for emergencies was quite common.

Nowadays a trip to a public toilet is either free or at minimum 20p. Somehow spending a 20p doesn’t quite sound the same.


  1. Good oldie that one learnt at Mother's knee!
    This isn't a real word, I found in an abridged version of Boswell's Johnson. I suspect it was a unique Johnsonian invention:
    Johnson: "swallows certainly sleep in the winter. A number of them conglobulate together, by flying round and round, and then all in a heap throw themselves underwater and lie in the bed of a river". That's suspending belief! Cheers.

  2. Johnson! Thank you for reminding me. I've been meaning to get my Johnson out for ages to hunt for some of his better contributions. Stand by for some words from our uppish friend.

  3. Ryanair's chief executive sparked howls of protest today by suggesting his airline is looking into charging passengers £1 to use toilets on its aircraft. Wow 240 old pennies. The cost of going to the loo really has gone up.