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One pence

September 3, 2012

On a website today I came across the advice that one could raise the bid for a desired item by one pence. A strange mistake which is strangely widespread: for pence is a plural, of course. The singular is penny. As it happens I think I know when this mistake was first born; it was when our currency was decimalised in the early 70s. Before that, pence was only ever used in compounds (sixpence, tuppence etc) and no one would ever have said or thought of saying onepence. But after decimalisation people starting saying things like five new pence. Also, a new abbreviation appeared: five new pee was synonymous with five new pence. By this route, one new pee (no problem there) gave rise to the back-formation of one new pence. This was over 40 years ago, and the mistake is now entrenched. But it’s still a mistake and it still annoys me. Can we all agree to say ‘Do you mean one penny?’ whenever someone says ‘one pence’? 

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