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Submitted by on May 4, 2022

In many nations, a penny is a coin or a unit of cash. It is generally the smallest denomination within a monetary system, and is derived from the Carolingian denarius (hence its old shorthand d.). It is now the legal name of the British penny (abbr. p), the de facto name of the American one-cent coin (abbr. ), and the colloquial Irish name of the 1 cent euro coin (abbr. c). Although one-cent coins are no longer manufactured in Canada, it is the colloquial moniker for the cent unit of account. The name is also used to a number of historical currencies that are descended from the Carolingian system, including the French denier and the German pfennig. Informally, it can also refer to any small-denomination coin, such as the euro cent or the Chinese fen.

The Carolingian penny was originally a 1240 pound 0.940 pure silver coin. It was adopted by Offa of Mercia and other English rulers, and it remained Europe’s primary currency for the next few centuries, until repeated debasements forced the production of more valuable coins. Until 1797, when the cost of the Napoleonic Wars forced the use of base metals, the British penny was still a silver coin. Despite currency decimalization in the United States and, later, the British Commonwealth, the word is still used informally.

Although farthings (1/4d), halfpennies, and half cents were historically coined, and the mill (1/10) is still used as a unit of account in some situations, no penny is now legally subdivided.

Penny was originally recorded in a Scots manuscript in 1394 as a version of Old English peni, which evolved into pennig, penning, and awaiting. Although cognates are frequent across virtually all Germanic languages and imply a root *pan-, *pann-, or *pand- with the individualizing suffix -ing, the derivation of the name “penny” is unknown. It was originally *panding as a Low Franconian form of Old High German pfant “pawn” (in the sense of a pledge or debt, as in a pawnbroker putting up collateral as a pledge for loan repayment); *panning as a form of the West Germanic word for “frying pan,” presumably due to its shape; and *ponding as a very early borrowing of Latin pondus (“pound”). It has recently been suggested that it might be an early borrowing of Punic pn (Pane or Pene, “Visage”), as the face of the Carthaginian deity Tanit appeared on practically all Carthaginian money. The British and Irish coins were labeled “new penny” after decimalization until 1982 and 1985, respectively.

The plural pennies dropped out of usage in England in the 16th century when referring to a sum of money (e.g., “That costs tenpence. “), although they were still used to refer to more than one penny coin (“Here you are, a sixpence and four pennies.”). The casual “penny” is normally exclusively used of coins in any instance, with values represented in “cents.” It is nevertheless widespread in Scottish English and is customary in all meanings in American English. The nickname for the American cent appears to have originated in New York State.

Prior to decimalization, in British English, values ranging from two to eleven pence, and to a lesser degree 18 pence, were frequently written and pronounced as a single word, such as twopence, tuppence, threepence, thruppence, and so on. (Other amounts were frequently written in shillings and pence or as two words, which could or could not be hyphenated.) A single coin was classified as a single noun, a sixpence, when it denoted a number of penny. As a result, “a threepence” (or “a threepenny piece”) refers to a single coin of that value, whereas “three pence” refers to its value and “three pennies” refers to three penny coins. In British English, penny divisions were added to non-conjunctive combinations like sixpence-farthing, and similar phrases were also considered as separate nouns. The ending -penny was employed in adjectival usage of such coins, as in sixpenny.

The acronym d. comes from the Latin word denarius. It was written after the quantity, such as “11d.” Since decimalization, it has been replaced by p, which is commonly written without a space or a period. The abbreviation “p” is commonly used to refer to pennies and pence values. In North America, the currency sign is commonly used to abbreviate cents. It’s commonly written with a plain c elsewhere.

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