When I first started writing Rain and Retribution, I didn’t think much about some of the phrasing I was using until my first beta tagged a phrase and asked, “When was this first used?” Wait, what? I never thought about some of the idioms or word phrases we might use on a daily basis and whether they were around in the time period I was writing. Now, I tend to catch myself as those pop into my head and I search them out and sometimes look for lists of fun phrases that would be more common during that time. Today, as I was editing a chapter, I looked up an idiom because I couldn’t remember if I’d checked it, and thought I would write a post with a couple of idioms I’ve had to check or that I’ve used just for fun.
Today’s idiom was “to turn up like a bad penny.” This actually comes from a proverb – “A bad penny always turns up,” and refers to anything or situation that is unwanted but recurs.
While we don’t consider pennies worth much, in the Middle Ages, they were worth significantly more and people counterfeited pennies, but instead of throwing them away, people would try to spend them to get rid of them. The term “bad penny” actually goes back further than the 14th century and can be dated by a poem by William Langland. In Piers Plowman, it says “Men may lykne letterid men… to a badde peny.
By the 18th century, the proverb appeared in Henry Fielding’s translation of Aristophanes Plutus (“We have a Proverb in English not unlike it, a bad Penny.”)
One of my favourites that I like to use is “different as chalk and cheese,” which is simply saying that things are extremely different. “Like chalk and cheese” dates back to the 14th century and found in John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, published in 1390, “Lo, how they feignen chalk for chese.” The origin has never been really discovered, but given the date it was first used in writing, it’s safe to say it was used in Regency England. I’ve even heard it used in the England today.