A Penny for Your Thoughts

Meanings of “A Penny for Your Thoughts”

The phrase “a penny for your thoughts” is an English idiom which is used to ask someone about what they are thinking. This idiomatic expression is used to request or encourage someone to speak up in removing their pensive mood or breaking their quietness. It is merely used as a request and has a gentle impact. A speaker always uses this idiom in a persuading voice to get a reply from a listener who is withdrawn from sharing his or her thoughts. Furthermore, when someone uses this idiom, it means he or she is also asking for a piece of advice.

“A penny for your thoughts” is an expression used as an invitation to a person who is in a state of preoccupation and avoids sharing all kinds of thoughts racing through his mind. Therefore, to question a silent person about what he thinks we can surely use this idiom.

Origin of “A Penny for Your Thoughts”

“A penny for your thoughts” is an old idiom and its first written record was traced back in early fifteen century. The first time this idiom was published in a self-help book written by Sir Thomas More A Treatyce upon the last thynges. It was published in 1535. The phrase was referred to in this book as “a peny for your thought.”

“A penny for your thoughts” has also appeared in the collection of proverbs by John Heywood, The Proverbs, and Epigrams of John Heywood, published in 1562. Since then, along with other classic phrases, this idiom became popularized.

It is also stated that the phrase “a penny for your thoughts” has been used as a title of a song written by Stephen Foster in the later part of the 19th century. He was also known as the father of American music.

This idiomatic expression became highly popular and was used by H.G. Wells in his novel Love & Mr. Lewisham published in 1900. It goes thus; “Penny,’ she said after an interval. Lewisham started and looked up. ‘Eh?’”

Examples in Literature

Example #1

A Penny for Your Thoughts by Stephen Foster

“A penny for your thoughts!
For I know that you are dreaming:
Love’s little, wicked darts
are sporting with your brain.

A penny for your thoughts!
Thro’ those eyes your heart is gleaming,
Longing to welcome back
the starry night again.

O’er the meadows thro’s the dew
You’ll wander there with I know who,
Fair are her wavy locks as vapors on the hill.

A penny for your thoughts!
On thy lips a smile beaming,
You’re sighing now for Jenny Dow,
that lives beyond the mill.”

This is an old song composed by Stephen Foster in 1861. He is also known as the father of American Music. The song is a piece of writer’s subjectivity and caters to the themes such as love, romance, and courtship. The phrase, “a penny for your thoughts” is used at the beginning of every verse when the writer inquires himself what he thinks about his beloved, Jenny Dow who lives beyond the mill. For this purpose, while describing the writer’s thoughts about his beloved, the composer has used this phrase as a refrain.

Example #2

A Penny for Your Thoughts by George Clayton Johnson

“A Penny for Your Thoughts” has been a title of an episode of a renowned American television program “The Twilight Zone” which was aired on the CBS Television network on February 3, 1961. George Clayton was the scriptwriter. It was a highly popular television show of its time. The story begins when a meek bank employee, Hector B. Poole walks to his office and stops to buy the newspaper. After a few attempts, he finally slips the coin on its edge in the coin box, which is considered a good omen because the newspaper dealer tells Hector that today is his lucky day. In a while, a car hits him after which he discovers he can read people’s mind.  Through this magical ability, Poole spends the rest of the day in this activity and resolves many issues in the bank.

Consequently, he is promoted. The mind reading power is the basic theme of this episode, which is relevant to its title through as Hector can hear what people think. The episode ends when its title appears over the box of the coins at the end of the program.

Examples in Sentences as Literary Devices

Example #1: “Silence prevails when words are meaningless. Thus, a penny slips out of your thoughts and communicates me the notion of isolation.” In this sentence, the penny has been personified.

Example #2: “In this crucial situation, a penny for your thoughts is necessary like fresh air is for health.” This phrase has been used as a simile as the use of the word ‘like’ shows.

Example #3: “She is quiet for ages, a penny for your thoughts?” This phrase has been used as a hyperbole though nobody stays silent for ages, while it shows that she has done this for ages.

Example #4: “Spending too much time to have a penny for his thoughts is worse than slavery because he is too reserved and introvert.” This expression has been used as a metaphorical statement in the sentence.

Example #5: “Words are nothing but merely a penny for your thoughts.” The phrase has turned this sentence into a metaphor which refers to words like pennies.

Example #6: “Though the whole story is told yet I need to have a penny for your thoughts.”

The phrase has been used by the end of the sentence where it seems that it has been compared with the first part that is “the whole story.” As there are no comparison markers, it means that it is a metaphor. However, it could be called an extended metaphor.