USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Penny’
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Proverbs
Signs

Respecting the Penny

Title: Respecting the Penny

Category: Proverbial Phrase

Informant: Julianna K. Keller

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: 20

Occupation: Student

Residence: 325 West Adams Blvd./ Los Angeles, CA 90007

Date of Collection: 4/09/18

Description:

“ The man that does not respect the Penny, does not deserve the dollar.”

Context/Significance:

The phrase comes from Julianna’s great Uncle and is thought to be an originally German proverb. According to the source, the proverb means: A person should value the little things so that they can appreciate when larger things happen. The phrase implies that a person should be appreciative of all things that happen to them and take nothing for granted.

Personal Thoughts:

This proverbial phrase is something that can be heard when talking about small occurrences in an insignificant way. It can be used as a retort when someone acts inappreciative of something nice that happens to them.

Folk speech
Proverbs

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

Informant: “One thing that I remember my grandfather [S] saying to me multiple times, it was ‘[Informant's name], a penny saved is a penny earned!’ And, so he grew up in the great depression, and that was some really tough times in America, and he saw all the hard things his parents had to do, and he as a kid had to do, and that caused people in his generation to feel like, if you find a way to save money, you know, not spend money you don’t need to spend, then that’s as good as earning extra money because that meant that you had that much money still available to you. I remember when I was little, we would go to California to visit him, and everyday they would be looking in the newspaper, cutting out coupons, looking for what the deal was, looking at the ads… basically figuring out everything for everything they were going to buy, where they were going to buy it from. If they were going to go out to dinner, they would make their dinner decision based off of who had a special, who had a coupon, who had a discount, those sorts of things, with the mindset of if they were going to spend money, but there’s a way to figure out how to spend less, then that’s just as good as making more money at your jobs. I find that I tend to think in the same way, where if I can figure out a way to spend less money, then it’s just like I just made more money from my job.”

Informant is a middle aged banker who frequently travels internationally on business, and is a father of three. He identifies as ‘American’, although his mother is of Czech heritage. He grew up in Oregon and Washington and currently lives in the Midwestern United States.

Collector Analysis: This particular proverb serves to provide financial advice, in this case the importance of spending money wisely. It is interesting how nowadays this particular proverb has almost a different meaning to it based on the fact that a penny today is considered to be nearly valueless, whereas in the time period where my informant first heard this proverb, pennies were not an insignificant amount of money. In this regard, the proverb may not have aged particularly well, but it is still a valuable piece of advice regardless.

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection
Signs

Penny Superstition

If I see a penny on the floor and it’s tails, I have to flip it over and leave it there or else I will get bad luck.

My informant told me about this superstition while we were walking.  I had spotted a penny on the floor and was going to pick it up until he stopped me.  Then, I asked him where he had got this idea from.  He told me that he was sure that somebody had told him but was unsure about who the specific person was.  Nest, I asked him whether he really believes that picking up a tails penny would be bad luck.  He said that he did not but it does not hurt to listen to this superstition.

I feel like this superstition derived from the other superstition that finding a penny that is heads up is good luck.  Somebody might have wondered how to respond if they were to find a penny that was tail side up, and simply come to the conclusion that the opposite side should provide good luck.  Following this, the whole act of flipping the tails coin to heads helps increase the chance that somebody else will find the good luck penny.  For me, I believe that this superstition is a way for people to feel good about themselves in a small way.  By flipping the coin to heads, a person would feel like they have first of all vanquished the potential for bad luck and at the same time, saved somebody else from it.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative

“If You Toss a Penny Off the Top of the Empire State Building, It Will Kill a Person Walking on the Street Below”

My informant first heard this “fun fact” when she was about seven-years-old.  It was a common piece of information that was spread across the playground.  It is such a common urban legend that most of my other informants and I, too, have heard the same declaration.  From when she was younger, her general understanding is that when dropped from the top balcony of the Empire State Building, the penny will gradually increase in velocity.  As it gets closer to the ground, it will reach the speed of a bullet.  If by chance the penny strikes a person in the head, the penny will go straight through and kill the person.

 

She also says that there are variations of the legend: it will put a hole in the cement sidewalk, the coin will break to pieces, and even, that it has been used to purposefully kill someone.  She laughed when she said the last variant saying: “I have no idea how or why someone would strategically plan to kill someone with a penny… on the top of the Empire State Building.  You wouldn’t even be able to identify the right person from that high up! [laughs] …I don’t know, it was just something I heard from grade school.”

 

My informant told me that she remembered this “fact” so well that when she actually went to New York when she was in high school, she asked one of the tour guides if it had ever happened: “The guide told me that he got that one a lot, but he reassured me that it wasn’t even possible.  Supposedly, since the building is so tall, the updraft will slow the penny’s speed as it falls and won’t cause any damage.  He also said, though, that people have thrown pennies off the side in the past, but they end up landing on other terraces on the lower floors.”

 

After hearing this, I was curious and did a little more research.  After checking a few different sources, it turns out the urban legend is in fact completely false.  According to the book Empire State Building, a penny tossed from the top of the Empire State Building will never even hit the ground.  The updraft effect pushes falling objects against the building and end up falling only a few stories below.  The coins that are dropped from the 86th floor simply land on the 80th floor and are collected by electricians when they change the lights on the outer side of the building.  Furthermore, according to an experiment that was performed for the ABC show “20/20,” even if the pennies dodge the 80th floor landing, the pennies are still harmless to pedestrians below.  After sending a large weather balloon into the air with an attached penny dispenser, Louis Bloomberg – a University of Virginia physics professor – spit the pennies one by one through a remote control device.  Several pennies hit Bloomberg but “it was like getting hit by a bug…it was noticeable, but nothing more…these things are just fluttering down.”  Another experiment was performed on the show “Mythbusters” that tested the degree of impact at terminal velocity (the speed at which the penny would fall if no other factors such as friction acted upon the coin) on asphalt, cement, concrete and an anatomically correct human head replica.  The experiment revealed that the penny would not penetrate any surfaces.  As far as the human skull, a penny at terminal velocity may break the skin, but will not break through or fracture the skull.  So as the crew of Mythbusters would say, this urban legend is “busted!”

 

 

Hyneman, Jamie, and Adam Savage. “Mythbusters: Penny Drop MiniMyth.” Mythbusters. Discovery Channel, 2 Feb. 2011. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/mythbusters-penny-drop-minimyth.html>.

 

Peterson, Sheryl. Empire State Building. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 2007. Print.

 

Stossel, John, and Gena Binkley. “Can a Penny Dropped From a Building Kill a Pedestrian Below?” ABC News. ABC News Network, 03 May 2007. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=3131332>.

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