Brunch (1896); Dime (1995)---(Question)

Michael Quinion TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Sun Feb 29 09:46:52 UTC 2004

> About 1980 an Englishwoman told me that in England pay toilets
> (whatever they are called) cost a shilling, and therefore "I have to
> spend a shillng" meant "I have to go to the bathroom".

Inflation in Britain may have been bad around that period, but not so
bad as that; so far as I know, "spend a shilling" has never had the
sense described, not least because it would have been considered an
outrageous sum to charge for a bog-standard public convenience in the
days when we had shillings.

In my childhood (1940s) and for long afterwards, it cost one (old)
penny to use a cubicle in a public loo, hence the expression "to
spend a penny" (though, of course, "not spend a penny" and related
phrases have a very much longer life in the sense of disinclination
to spend money on non-essentials).

It was not solely declimalisation (in 1971) that did for the saying
but also the widespread move by local authorities to remove charges
for public toilets, one reversed more recently through the
introduction of superloos, which usually charge either 10p or 20p (in
old money that's two shillings or four shillings, which is why people
of my generation look askance at the cost and try to avoid them).

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at>
Web: <>

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