Thursday, August 27, 2015

denarium [penny]

I've found that in the English language and American culture, we have a lot of sayings that don't always make sense.  They're often derived from some strange anecdote of the past and people have been saying things like, "don't spill the beans", "this smells fishy", or "it came out of the blue",  ever since-- without really questioning why in the world that's an effective mode of communication.

Regardless of how accurately expressions like this may reflect the reality you'd like to share with those around you, we use idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms because there  remains some figurative truth to what's being said.  And we appreciate those things, because they help us see some sort of significance to the harsher realities that surround us.

Included today are two such expressions regarding something commonly found on the ground: pennies.

"A penny for your thoughts" was first published in 1522, in Sir Thomas More's book, "Four Last Things".  The phrase existed before then, but became more widespread when it was penned:

“As it often happeth that the very face sheweth the mind walking a pilgrimage, in such wise that, not without some note and reproach of such vagrant mind, other folk suddenly say to them, ‘A penny for your thought.’”

Mm.  Good old Literature.

Of course, I have never seen anyone actually exchange coinage for the thoughts of another (until we get into themes like patent law, I suppose) but the proposal still stands; the desire to know what's on someone's mind--and perhaps glean some wise insight--is worth, it would seem, a small investment.

"My two cents", on the other hand, is an expression used to denote one's opinion.  People often use it either timidly or caustically to depreciate the value of their input, or to avoid possible contention.  It has many possible origins, but nothing definitive as to why or how it entered colloquial speech.

Even though the original finances and meanings related to these phrases have become rather obsolete, we somehow still managed to agree that these phrases are acceptable methods of communication.  While the former tends to magnify or exaggerate the worth of a penny and the latter does the opposite, they still form an appreciable contribution to our language and idiomatic communications.  And together, they might teach us something:

If you offer "a penny for your thoughts" and someone gives you their two cents, you got a great return on that investment.  You just doubled your investment!  That's good business right there.

Microfinances aside, though, investing yourself in what others think or have to say is an incredibly valuable and worthwhile expenditure.  Of course things like friendship and teamwork require you to invest some sort of principal.  Your time, your efforts, even your emotions.  And listening to another and allowing them to return that to you often enlarges whatever thoughts or feelings you had previous to that.  You gain another perspective and a more thorough understanding of the world around you--even if that world around you is as localized as the workings of another mind.  These things are important.

The great thing about investing "a penny for your thoughts" is that the investment is so simple. It really requires nothing more than you caring enough to take notice.