bad penny: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘bad penny’ mean?

The idiom bad penny refers to a person or thing that keeps turning up or returning, especially in an unwanted or unpleasant way.

Idiom Explorer

Unwanted but Unavoidable

The idiom "bad penny" is derived from the notion of a penny that is worn or counterfeit, making it undesirable or worthless. It is used to describe a person or thing that continues to reappear, especially when unwanted or in an unpleasant manner. This concept can be traced back to British history, where the penny, a monetary unit in British currency, was made of copper and had a reputation for easily wearing out. As a result, a worn or counterfeit penny became known as a "bad penny" and was considered undesirable. This idea was later metaphorically applied to people or things.

One example of the usage of the idiom "bad penny" can be found in William Shakespeare's play "Merry Wives of Windsor." In this play, a character exclaims, "I thought that he had been a bachelor; but a bad penny always turns up." This usage highlights the idea that an unwanted person or thing tends to appear at inconvenient times. The phrase has also been used extensively in literature, contributing to its popularity and enduring usage.

The idiom "bad penny" is predominantly used in informal speech and writing. It is often employed when discussing someone's persistently negative presence, character, or actions. The idiom suggests that the person or thing in question is unwelcome and continuously resurfaces, despite efforts to avoid or get rid of them. This can be seen in various contexts, such as politics, relationships, or personal predicaments.

Persistence paid off despite unwelcome reappearance of unlucky cliche.

Interestingly, the phrase has evolved over time and is now used more broadly to convey the idea of anything unwanted that keeps coming back. It can refer to recurring problems, persistent issues, or even recurring themes. The versatility of the idiom allows it to effectively convey the concept of an unwanted person or thing that persistently reappears.

The idiom "rotten egg" is related to the idiom "bad penny" in the sense that both phrases refer to something or someone undesirable. While "bad penny" implies a persistent reappearance of an unwanted person or thing, "rotten egg" describes someone who is unpleasant, deceitful, or untrustworthy. The use of the term "rotten egg" suggests that the person in question is morally corrupted or has negative qualities that make them undesirable.

Similarly, the idiom "devil's luck" is also related to the concept of a "bad penny." "Devil's luck" refers to someone who seems to have consistently bad luck or experiences unfortunate circumstances. This may include the idea of being unlucky in general or having a streak of misfortune. The connection between these idioms lies in the notion of continuous, undesirable experiences or outcomes.

Another related idiom is "everything one touches turns to gold." This phrase refers to someone who has incredible success or the Midas touch, meaning that everything they involve themselves in becomes successful. This contrasts with the idea of a "bad penny," as someone who is constantly associated with negative outcomes.

The idiom "bad penny" is derived from the notion of a worn or counterfeit penny, emphasizing its undesirability. It has been used extensively in literature and is predominantly found in informal speech and writing. The idiom conveys the idea of an unwanted person or thing that persistently reappears, despite efforts to avoid or get rid of them. Related idioms such as "rotten egg," "devil's luck," and "everything one touches turns to gold" also capture the essence of undesirable or persistent circumstances. The enduring usage of the idiom "bad penny" can be attributed to its relatability and its ability to effectively convey the concept of something or someone unwanted that continues to reappear.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom *bad penny* can be used in a sentence:

  1. He always shows up like a bad penny whenever there's free food around.
  2. Just when I thought I had gotten rid of her, she reappeared like a bad penny.
  3. That old car keeps breaking down, it's like a bad penny that never goes away.

More "Coinage" idioms

We missed the mark - nothing found.