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“To spend a penny!”

The English are stereotyped as being very reserved people, not always saying exactly what they mean. Well, this idiom is perhaps a good example of that. It’s all about how we say we want to go to the WC (Water Closet – vano adibito a servizio igienico). We may say it like this:

“I’m just going to the toilet.”

“Where’s the loo?” (“loo” is a very common colloquial word for WC)

“Where’s David?”  “Oh, he’s gone to the loo.”

“Is there a washroom here?” (used more in the USA)


“I’m just going to spend a penny!

I know the origins of this idiom without doing any research! I remember when I was a child that if you wanted to use a public toilet it cost one penny, so you always had to have a penny in your pocket in case you needed the loo! Nowadays the phrase is used to say you need to go to a WC, but in a less obvious way!

We often put “just” in the phrase meaning “semplicemente.”

You might say:

  • “I’m just off to spend a penny.”
  • “I’ll be back in a moment, I just need to spend a penny.”
  • “See you here in a minute – I’m just going to spend a penny.”

Can you use this phrase this week?

Thanks Anita for the suggestion to explain this very useful idiom!

The English Tree team