My father-in-law is British. There’s a phrase he has used for many years to inform anyone within earshot of his need to use the bathroom, “I have to spend a penny.” Early on I was curious about the phrase, and Frank is like Cliff Clavin from Cheers; he loves to impart useless information (as he willingly acknowledges). It is often interesting, though.
Back in the day, he explained, if you wanted to use a public restroom it was necessary to invest a penny into the process. Fascinating, I know.
There’s another phrase he uses: “The penny has dropped.” Thankfully, this one has nothing to do with bodily functions. It dates back to the Victorian era when penny arcades were popular. Sometimes the penny would get stuck half way down and the customer would have to shake the machine or just wait until the penny finished its journey downward for the game to begin.
Now it refers to someone who has realized their situation after being unaware of it for some time. It’s kinda like when Grandpa tells a joke. His teen-aged granddaughter has a blank look on her face until she finally works out the meaning of the joke ten seconds after the delivery of the punch line. She offers the obligatory courtesy laugh and he says, “Ah, the penny has dropped.”
If Frank were to tell the story of the prodigal son, the point at which he could use the penny colloquialism in reference to the wayward son interests me. I mean the second penny phrase I’ve mentioned, though since he’s among the pigs the first one wouldn’t be out of the question. Check out Luke 15:17 in the link above. This guy finally understands his low position as a result of sitting among the pigs in a foreign country. He’s hit rock bottom.
Here’s what gets me: he realizes the awesome qualities of his father only because he’s screwed things up so badly for himself. Not very noble. His only reason for reconsidering a life with Daddy is because of the extreme consequences of his own stupid actions. This was the unwelcome shake that knocked the penny loose, and it finally dropped for him.
Though his planned speech is accurate, it’s unnecessary because in the end, Dad doesn’t care why he’s come back. None of it matters anymore. All of the son’s dishonor and wastefulness. All of the father’s sleepless nights and aimless days spent looking out into the distance hoping and praying to see the silhouette of his boy on the horizon. None of it matters, and Dad refuses to give him a lower status because of it.
The penny has dropped. The son has finally figured out who his father really is and the life that could be had doing things the Father’s way.
Maybe the penny hasn’t dropped in your situation yet. Figure it out before you’re feeding swine in a foreign land. It may take you shaking the game a little yourself to make the penny fall sooner, but then it’s game on.