phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at


Posted by Victoria S Dennis on December 27, 2007

In Reply to: Meaning posted by R. Berg on December 25, 2007

: : : : : "The penny dropped" I heard was based on the person who changed the reels in old movie theatres and had seen the movie so many times that they put a "penny" coin in the end of the first reel of two-reel movies and put the reel can under the projector so that when the first reel ran out the penny dropped into the reel and woke up the person who was snoozing out of boredom

: : : : All kinds of stories circulate, and a story isn't proof. Did the person you heard this one from provide evidence for it? Then there's the question of how to attach a penny to the inner end of the tightly wound film on the reel - and, assuming that could be done, whether the penny would interfere with the unwinding process. ~rb

: : : Another theory: it has to do with "the old penny-in-the-slot machine or device, such as a chocolate machine or doorlock..." "Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" revised by John Ayto (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 2005, Seventeenth Edition).

: : What is the meaning of the expression you are discussing (the penny dropped)?

: : Thank you.

: Meaning: Someone suddenly arrived at a conclusion, "put the puzzle together," realized something. ~rb

The penny-in-the-slot-machine (or the lock of the cubicle in the public convenience) explanation is the one I have always heard (ever since my childhood in London in the early 1960s), and took for granted was true. Unlike the "cinema projectionist" story, it has the advantage of perfectly illustrating the meaning of the phrase. Sometimes when you put a coin into one of these things nothing happens because the coin has stuck; you have to bang the mechanism or rattle it, until finally the penny drops and gives you a result - your chocolate bar or soft drink, or access to the toilet. (VSD)