A penny for my thoughts? Sadly, you're getting ripped off, but here goes...
The lowly penny isn't just low any more; it's now completely irrelevant. The federal government stopped minting the copper coins last spring and, as of Monday, banks and retailers will no longer offer the forsaken cents in change.
To be honest, it's long overdue. In 1999 I travelled to Australia, a country that had banished the penny years before. There were some distinct adaptations made to accommodate the shift - the sales tax was pinned at 10 per cent if I recall correctly, making it easy to calculate and pay with five-and 10cent coins - but overall, the little copper bits were not missed. I remember thinking at the time that it was just a matter of time before Canada made a similar move.
Well, it took a bit longer than I thought, but that day has finally arrived. The death knell came when the folks at the Royal Canadian Mint acknowledged it cost 1.5 cents to produce a coin valued at one cent each. When the act of making money costs more than the money is worth, the decision is an easy one.
For most of us, the penny had become more of a nuisance than a unit of currency long before the feds bothered to look at the fiscal bottom line.
I recall a university study where researchers tried to determine at what point a pedestrian would stop to pick up a coin off the sidewalk.
Quarters were almost never passed over. The dimes and nickels were all eventually recovered, but the pennies remained stranded on the concrete long after the university folks had packed up their notebooks and called it a day.
The penny has been obsolete for at least 20 years in North America. We have jars of the things cluttering the back of shelves in our garages and attics; they rattle in the ashtrays of older cars; we pull out handfuls of them when we shove our hands down between the cushions on the sofa; they pollute the waters of fountains and wishing wells; they make great scraping tools for scratch-and-win tickets and, in an emergency, they can be even be used as an impromptu screwdriver. Basically, we use them for everything but spending them.
Heck, even little kids know the things are useless and use them as toys rather than waste valuable space in their piggy banks.
While we mock the things, the common penny has a legacy that will not diminish even though we no longer see them every day. The coin will be gone, but it will live on in our language, if not our pocket change.
For such a measly unit of currency, the penny has created a remarkable lexicon of meanings and idioms over the centuries.
Of course, penny arcades, penny loafers, penny press leaflets, penny whistles, penny farthing bicycles and penny candy are long gone already and penny slots are more likely to cost a nickel to play these days.
Thugs and low lifes will still be bad pennies and while we may not have two pennies to rub together, we can still be penny-wise because, after all, a penny saved is a penny earned.
New cars will still cost a pretty penny - a price to be avoided by people who pinch their pennies.
Gamblers can be in for a penny, in for a pound - but only in penny ante games of chance. The winners feel like they found pennies from heaven.
Smart people will clue in when the penny drops and when nature calls, everybody has to spend a penny to get relief.
The superstitious among us will be stranded when the calendar reads Friday the 13th since the absence of copper coinage makes it highly unlikely that a person will be able to "see a penny, pick it up and all day you'll have good luck."
Nope, the penny is gonzo and now we're left with throwing in two bits, avoiding taking wooden nickels and stopping on dimes.
All of these phrases are familiar to us but you have to wonder how nonsensical such wordplay will sound to future generations. To them, a penny will be as familiar as 8-track tapes, rotary dial telephones, crank windows in cars and rabbit ears on televisions (ask your parents, kids).
While the penny won't be missed by most of us, as usual the federal government missed a golden opportunity to send the coins off in style.
If it had waited just a couple of months, the penny's demise could have coincided with the April 30 deadline for filing income taxes.
That's a day when Canadians are used to feeling penniless.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Email your thoughts on this issue to firstname.lastname@example.org or snail-mail a letter to Suite 201-7889 132nd Street, Surrey, B.C., V3W 4N2. Include full name, address and phone number for verification purposes.
Michael Booth can be reached at mbooth@ thenownewspaper.com
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