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The penny drops

Posted by Hannah on September 14, 2004

In Reply to: The penny drops posted by Miri Barak on September 07, 2004

: : : Remembering something that my mother used to do to me as a child, I was wondering why - and then 'the penny dropped'. But then I also wondered how that saying had come about. My googling produced the answer below:

: : : A realisation after a period of confusion or misunderstanding.
: : : ORIGIN
: : : May have originated as a reference to the use of coin (penny) operated slots on the locks or public toilets.

: : : Is this likely? Does anyone have any more info? How can the dropping of the penny in the toilet door equate to the realisation of something? (Oh and btw, the scary thing is that I can remember when we did put a penny in the doors of public and large dept store toilets - yikes!!!)

: : Another possibility is the 'penny in the slot' peep shows traditionally at seaside holiday resorts in Victorian times. Things like 'What the butler saw'. When the penny dropped here, all was revealed!

: It's funny. In Hebrew we say "the token dropped" from the times of public phones, and it has the same meaning: understanding at last.

In German you'd say "der Groschen ist gefallen" (the Groschen (10 pence) has dropped. I just love it when there's a literal translation!), and according to a German dictionary the phrase comes from those old vending machines you used to have for chewing-gum and such. It was necessary that the penny dropped all the way down the slot to make the mechanism work, and apparently people just equated this to the human process og thinking. (Unfortunately, and in contrast to a vending machine, a good slap on the head doesn't help too much in case the penny's stuck.)

Btw: As a non-native, I always wonder whether the British/American/Australian/etc. really use all those phrases and sayings in everyday speech. A lot of those I've found here on this web site have their equivalent in German, but we actually don't use them very often.