The Lincoln Cent (not penny)
If you’ve spent much time with coin collectors, you might have had this experience. A reference is made to a United States penny and someone responds, with their nose held high and in superior tones, that the United States of America has never produced a penny, only a cent.
The definitionWhile that’s true, the definition for penny says, “In the United States and Canada, the coin that is worth one cent.” Additionally, Wikipedia describes the penny as, “a standard but unofficial name for the one-cent coin in the United States and in Canada, worth 1⁄100 of the dollar.”
The usageAs you know, language is dynamic. It’s always changing and evolving, and even as a long time coin collector I use penny on occasion. I bet even the people who find it so pleasing to point out that the US has never made a penny, use the term. We have phrases like penny candy, penny slots, penny arcade, penny for your thoughts, a penny saved is a penny earned, penny wise and pound foolish, to pay a pretty penny, a penny pincher, take a penny leave a penny, pennies from heaven, the penny drops and find a penny pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck. I find it hard to believe that all of these phrases are referring to the British penny. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t found any of those on the ground recently.
In time, general usage dictates what is found in the dictionary and in accepted speech, so coin collectors who refuse to accept that penny is a valid description of our 1-cent coin are fighting a losing battle. They may claim that they’re just stating facts and trying to keep our language pure, but I can assure you, our language is already far from pure and correct.