The penny is the lowest valued unit of U.S. currency, one cent, equalling one one-hundredth of the U.S. dollar. It is also the subject of many idioms and phrases, some memorable songs, and a long-standing debate about its future. Some hate it, many ignore it, but the penny is as much a part of American culture as the flag itself.

The Penny’s History

The name penny  comes to us from the Old English word pening and the Germanic word Pfenning. There are other, similar Scandinavian words, all terms for a coin. The plural of penny is pence in Great Britain and pennies in the U.S.

The original penny, minted in 1787, was made of 100% copper. In fact, legendary patriot and blacksmith Paul Revere supplied some of the copper for the first pennies. It was called the Fugio cent, from the Latin inscription on the coin which translated to, “I fly.” The other side of the coin depicted 13 rings, representing the original 13 colonies, and the phrase, “We are one.” It was larger than the coins of today.

After a brief couple of years when the newly minted coins featured an eagle in flight, a Native American princess in full headdress adorned the penny for several decades. Then, in 1909, on what would have been his 100th birthday, the Abraham Lincoln penny was introduced. The reverse side contained the phrase, “In God We Trust.” It was the size we know today. 50 years later, the back of the coin was changed to depict the Lincoln Memorial. And, 50 years on, the back of the coin was altered again, this time engraved with a shield of 13 stripes – returning the design back to a tribute to the first 13 U.S. colonies.

The Controversy

Copper has become a very pricy metal. The coin is now almost all zinc, with a thin copper plating to maintain the color. Nevertheless, it currently costs nearly 2 cents to mint every penny, making it more than it is worth. This is the principal reason behind the call for the elimination of the coin.

The next highest denomination coin, however, is the nickel, or the 5 cent coin. The nickel costs 7.29 cents to mint, even more of a loss leader than the penny! The government loses millions of dollars each year keeping these coins in circulation. An estimated half a trillion coins, mostly pennies, have been minted over the last 30 years, yet only about 3 billion coins are in circulation. This means that the overwhelming majority of pennies in the U.S. just vanished – mostly thrown away because of their lack of value.1

Still, although many complain about the penny, there is no serious plan to eliminate its use altogether.

Penny Idioms

With the penny being such an important part of our history, it stands to reason that we have many phrases in English about the lowly penny. Here are some of the best known.

  • A bad penny always turns up – Said when something or someone, unwelcome returns. It refers to a counterfeit (or fake) penny always finding its way back into your pocket.
  • A penny for your thoughts – This expression is used when you find someone lost in thought.
  • In for a penny, in for a pound – A curious phrase that means if you decide on a course of action then you should give it your best effort. In England, 100 pence is equal to 1 pound British sterling.
  • The penny drops – A sudden realization of something that you had been wondering about. It refers to the old slot machines that operated only when a coin was inserted.
  • Worth a pretty penny – If something costs a lot of money, we say that it is worth a pretty penny. It may be a reference to rare old coins being valuable to collectors.
  • Pennies from heaven – This is said when something of value suddenly comes your way. It was a popular phrase during The Great Depression of the 1930s. It also inspired two famous movies, one with Bing Crosby and another with Steve Martin.

What do you think? Should we keep the penny?

You have decided to learn another language. Now what? Ask yourself: what do you want to achieve and by when? Our teachers found: “Language learning is best when broken down into manageable goals that are achievable over a few months. This is far more motivating and realistic.”

You might be feeling wildly optimistic when you start but aiming to be fluent is not necessarily the best idea. We generally recommend making these goals tangible and specific: “Why not set yourself a target of being able to read a newspaper article in the target language without having to look up any words in the dictionary?”


It might sound obvious, but recognising exactly why you want to learn a language is really important. Motivation is usually the first thing to go, especially among students who are teaching themselves. To keep the momentum going we suggest writing down 10 reasons why you are learning a language and sticking it to the front of the file you are using and turn to these in times of self-doubt.

  • COVID-19 has resulted in schools shut all across the world. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom.
  • As a result, education has changed dramatically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms.
  • Research suggests that online learning has been shown to increase retention of information, and take less time, meaning the changes coronavirus have caused might be here to stay.

While countries are at different points in their COVID-19 infection rates, worldwide there are currently more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries affected by school closures due to the pandemic. In Denmark, children up to the age of 11 are returning to nurseries and schools after initially closing on 12 March, but in South Korea students are responding to roll calls from their teachers online.

With this sudden shift away from the classroom in many parts of the globe, some are wondering whether the adoption of online learning will continue to persist post-pandemic, and how such a shift would impact the worldwide education market.

Even before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, with global edtech investments reaching US$18.66 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education projected to reach $350 Billion by 2025. Whether it is language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage since COVID-19.


While some believe that the unplanned and rapid move to online learning – with no training, insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation – will result in a poor user experience that is unconducive to sustained growth, others believe that a new hybrid model of education will emerge, with significant benefits. “I believe that the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated and that online education will eventually become an integral component of school education,“ says Wang Tao, Vice President of Tencent Cloud and Vice President of Tencent Education.

There have already been successful transitions amongst many universities. For example, Zhejiang University managed to get more than 5,000 courses online just two weeks into the transition using “DingTalk ZJU”. The Imperial College London started offering a course on the science of coronavirus, which is now the most enrolled class launched in 2020 on Coursera.

Many are already touting the benefits: Dr Amjad, a Professor at The University of Jordan who has been using Lark to teach his students says, “It has changed the way of teaching. It enables me to reach out to my students more efficiently and effectively through chat groups, video meetings, voting and also document sharing, especially during this pandemic. My students also find it is easier to communicate on Lark. I will stick to Lark even after coronavirus, I believe traditional offline learning and e-learning can go hand by hand.”