A dime saved is a penny earned

November 18, 2011 at 01:05 PM | categories: language

We're all familiar with the expression "a penny saved is a penny earned". Seems like good financial advice, but really? Pennies? I can hardly bother to bend over to pick one up if I drop it. Here in Canada we're talking about abolishing them, and they already have in Australia. The penny is in its death throes; so too could be this proverb.

So I looked into it a bit more: searching Google books' archive, the earliest reference I can find to the expression is from 1702 in an old French-English dictionary using an archaic form "A penny saved is a penny got" (which, incidentally, is "Un sou épargné, est un sou gagné" en français.)

The popularaity of the phrase really seemed to explode around 1800 as shown below. It appears, however, that it has been losing relevance slowly ever since.

Plot of popularity of the phrase "penny saved is a" in written English over time

So no wonder it feels dated; it is! In 1800, an (American) penny in modern dollars has a value of... $0.13!

So, in these modern times, where frugality is as important as ever, I humbly submit that we update the expression [*] to something with more (ahem) currency. "A dime saved is a dime earned".

Update: of course the same logic applies to other financial idioms. "penny for your thoughts" seems to come into written popularity at a similar time, although its roots are much older. The fact that we still use this expression indicates the deplorable lack of respect we have for the opinions of others in this day and age. Just my two cents.

[*]Disclaimer: I don't really recommend this.