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Change is loose coins, almost always round and made of metal. In the USA, we use pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. We used to use half dollars and real silver dollars, such as the one George Washington is said to have thrown across the Delaware River. A chump is a fool and someone who is easily tricked. Chump change is an amount of money that is considered to be insultingly small. The amount depends on how much money you have, what you did to get it and whether the amount is actually trivial or only trivial to a certain person. You may think $10,000 is a lot of money while a billionaire may consider it chump change.


From 1793 to 1837, one-cent coins were struck from pure copper. Today’s pennies are 97.5% zinc, with a thin copper coating to maintain the traditional coloration. 

Penny loafers

Once upon a time, preppie boys and girls wore slip-on loafers called Weejuns. They were moccasins made of leather with hard soles and heels. The horizontal strap across the vamp had a slit in it that would hold a penny. Once the fashion entered the mainstream, the trendsetters took theirs out, of course. 

A penny for your thoughts

Most of us agree that saying a penny for your thoughts is a way to show interest in what the other person is thinking about. Psychologists say it positively reinforces the notion that the other person’s ideas and opinions have real value. As Western society emerged from the Middle Ages, Sir Thomas More wrote when someone’s expression is just so, it would be wise to offer them a penny for their thoughts. 500 years ago, a penny was worth more than it is now.


Having little or no significance or worth; trivial, cheap.

Penny pincher

A person so frugal as to be miserly.

Pennies from Heaven

That’s the title of the 1936 musical film comedy and the title of the Oscar-nominated song crooned by Bing Crosby. The core message is that every cloud has a silver lining. Click here to listen to Der Bingle’s version or here for Billie Holliday’s recording.


In the USA, these silvery five-cent pieces are a bit larger and thicker than pennies. The first ones were made of silver and called half-dimes. When silver was replaced with cheaper nickel and copper, people started calling them nickels. The most famous of all nickels is the Buffalo nickel, with its Native American chief on the obverse and a standing buffalo on the reverse. The portrait was created by mingling the images of three real people – a Cheyenne named Two Moons, a Sioux named Iron Tail and a Seneca named John Big Tree. The model for the buffalo was an American Bison named Black Diamond, who lived in New York City’s Central Park Zoo.

Not worth a plug nickel

A plugged nickel is a counterfeit coin used to make purchases from coin-operated devices. Nowadays it would cost more than five cents to make a fake nickel, but when they were made of real silver that was worth more than five cents, counterfeiters would remove most of the silver, replace it with cheap metal and use the plugged nickels in vending machines. Nowadays anything worthless can be referred to as not worth a plug(ged) nickel. 

It’s your nickel

Once upon a time everyone didn’t have a phone in their pocket. As a matter of fact, there was a time when so few of us owned telephones that we shared them. Pay-as-you-go telephones were found in drugstores, hotel lobbies, gas stations and in booths on city sidewalks. The first local calls cost a nickel. When you paid for the call, you got to choose the topic. A similar sentiment is expressed by the saying “If you pay the piper, you get to call the tune,” or as a friend once said, “He who pays, says.”

Don’t take any wooden nickels

Wooden nickels were actually issued as legal tender in the Pacific Northwest during the Great Depression. They were soon outlawed by the United States Congress as money and so became novelty coins for collectors, promotions and free drinks at the bar. Today the phrase has evolved to become a humorous farewell warning to not be fooled by anything.


The first nickelodeons were arcades that charged patrons 5¢ to watch movies.


The U.S. ten-cent coin is the smallest and thinnest. It has carried the profile of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt since 1946, the year of his death. On the back, the torch, olive branch and oak branch represent liberty, peace and strength. Roosevelt was chosen for the dime because he was a high-profile polio victim who supported the March of Dimes program that raised funds for research to find a cure for infantile paralysis.

Turn on a dime

A dime is the smallest U.S. coin, and if you are able to turn on one, you are doing so quickly and abruptly, with agile precision. To stop on a dime is also to do so instantly. The terms are often used to describe the actions of athletes or high-performance automobiles. 

A dime a dozen

Cheap and plentiful commodities, so common as to be practically worthless.

Get off the dime

Take some action – do something! The phrase comes from taxi dancers in early 20th-century dance halls. One explanation says it refers to the boss urging the dime-a-dance girls to draw the dance to a close and get to the next one. Another says that dancing with strangers for hours on end was tiring. Taxi dancers would conserve energy by draping themselves over their partners and moving their feet as little as possible. Saying “get off the dime” was the dance hall managers’ way of telling the girls to peel themselves off the customers and use more of the dance floor. 

Drop a dime

The phrase is from the days when most people used coin-operated pay phones to make calls. Someone who drops a dime (in the slot) is making a call to the police to inform on another’s activities, usually for a reward. The term appeared in detective novels back in the 1930s. 


The classic one-fourth of a dollar has George Washington’s portrait on the front. For the past 20 years there have been 50 versions on the back, each featuring one of the U.S. states. The current design honors American women and their contributions, including Sally Ride, Maria Tallchief and Anna May Wong.

As Vincent told Jules in Pulp Fiction, in France they call a quarter-pounder a Royale with Cheese because they use the metric system.

Mixed change

Five and dime

Stores that sold inexpensive household items, such as Woolworth’s, Kresge, McCrory’s and others have been replaced by Dollar Stores, Dollar General, Family Dollar and so on.

Nickel and dime

As an adjective, nickel and dime means mall-time, minor, unimportant and/or operating on a small scale. As a verb, to nickel and dime someone is to continually tack on costs and fees in small amounts, one after another. You’ve probably heard someone complain that they’re being nickel-and-dimed to death.

Final say
  • A penny saved is a penny earned.” -Benjamin Franklin
  • What this country needs is a good five-cent nickel.” -Franklin Pierce Adams
  • There were many times my pants were so thin I could sit on a dime and tell if it was heads or tails.” -Jonathan Swift
  • Do you think when they asked George Washington for his I.D. he whipped out a quarter?” -Steven Wright

Weejun is a shortcut way of saying Norwegian. Exchange students in the early 1900s saw Norwegian fisherman wearing simple, comfortable loafers constructed like moccasins. G.H. Bass trademarked the name Weejun and mass marketed the shoes.

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