or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Pennies From Heaven

I am reading a fascinating, if improbably lengthy, book called The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Invented Modern Crime. The following sentences will give a sense of the book's style:

After endless testimony of Tottenham and Monson lying, cheating, forging, doctoring letters, reneging on agreements, defrauding each other and anyone else within sight, the judge reminded the jury that libel had to lower a man’s reputation in the eyes of the world. The jury found that Monson had been libelled, and valued the damage to his reputation at one farthing: one-quarter of a penny, the lowest possible denomination.

I have glancingly mentioned farthings before, but somehow never in my life stopped to think where the word itself came from. Knowing that a farthing is a quarter of a penny is the clue to its meaning: a farthing is literally a quarter — a fourth-ing.

A penny-farthing, as you probably know, is an old-timey bike that looked like this

and it got its name because a penny and a farthing looked like this

Speaking of pennies, Canada is about to cancel minting and circulation of ours, and good riddance, say I. Transactions ending in 1 or 2 get rounded down to 0, those ending in 3 or 4 get rounded up to 5, and everything will work itself out. There are something like thirty-five billion pennies in circulation, which, if Wolfram Alpha is to be believed, is 1033 per person. I am fairly sure I have at least that many, rolled and loose, in a tin in my bedroom.


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