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Pin money

Posted by James Briggs on June 04, 2003

In Reply to: Pin money posted by R. Berg on June 04, 2003

: : : : The term "spending money" (extra money to be spent on frivolous or incidental things) came up in conversation today. I was told that the British equivalent of this American term is "pin money". Merriam-Webster dates it back to 1697, but gives no origin. Any ideas on the origin, and why the word "pin" is used?

: : : : (I only think it is British because I was told that it was seen in a Jane Austen novel).

: : : I don't know how accurate this is, but I think it has to do with the way people used to use straight pins to pin some paper money to the inside of their clothing----to a woman's petticoat or the inside of a man's jacket---for protection or for emergencies, the old "This way it'll be there if you need it" routine.

: : I read a good explanation somewhere about when pins were a novelty, etc., something every housewife wanted and needed. But I can't find it now. Here's what I did find:

: : PIN MONEY ? ?I suppose that the very earliest notion of ?pin money? was literal ? just enough money with which a wife could buy pins?But in the early 16th century and onward the amount was considerably larger. ?Money to buy her pins? was enough, not only for the purchase of pins, but for all other personal expenses?? From 2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions from White Elephants to Song and Dance by Charles Earle Funk (Galahad Book, New York, 1993).

: The Oxford English Dictionary defines "pin-money" as "an annual sum allotted to a woman for personal expenses in dress, etc.; esp. such an allowance settled upon a wife for her private expenditure." The early quotations read like this:
: "I give my said doughter Margarett my lease of the parsonadge of Kirkdall Churche . . . to by her pynnes withal"
: "Caligula gave an 100000 sesterces to his Curtisan . . . to buy her pins"
: "Which Rent I haue bestowed on my daughter Mary to buy her pins"
: "He told me I should have two hundred a year to buy pins"

Pin: Pin money is now regarded as a term for small amounts of money, usually saved by a woman. The sum was not always small; in the 14th and 15th centuries pins were very expensive and were only allowed to be sold on the first two days of each January. Husbands gave their wives special money for the purchase. As time went by pins became ever cheaper and the money could be spent on other things. However, the expression remained.