Posted by ESC on February 01, 2002
In Reply to: Nothing is cheap which is superfluous, for what one does need, is dear a penny posted by Word Camel on February 01, 2002
: : Hi everybody!
: : Pleased to meet you. I'm a Spanish free-lance translator and I'm just happy that I've found you ;-)
: : I hope you can help me with this sentence:
: : "Nothing is cheap which is superfluous, for what one does need, is dear at a penny".
: : I think I've understood its meaning (perhaps: superfluous things are always expensive; necessary things are not). But I wonder if it is a phrase used in specific situations and even if I have undestood it correctly.
: : Thanks in advance.
: : MARTA
: Dear Marta,
: I have a different understanding of the phrase. I think it means that nothing that isn't a necessity is can be considered cheap because what one absolutely needs is expensive.
: Imagine an unemployed person offered an ridiculously cheap price for a trip to Spain. Unfortunately because this person can barely pay for the necessities, so it doesn't matter how inexpensive the trip is, it can't be considered cheap.
: 'Dear' is used here in the sense of expensive.
: I haven't heard the phrase used before. Where did you find it?
I haven't heard this phrase either. The first part is easy to understand. If you buy something useless at a reduced price,(like a ship in the desert), it's not really a savings. You've wasted your money.
I'm having trouble with the second part. If you really need something (like a heart transplant) it is cheap at any price. But "what one does need, is dear at a penny" doesn't say that to me. One of the meanings of "dear" is "expensive." ("Dictionary of Word Origins: the Histories of More Than 8,000 English-Language Words" by John Ayto; Arcade Publishing, New York, 1990). Something you really, really need wouldn't be expensive at a penny.
R. Berg? Can you clear this up. I've muddied it enough.