Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Anti-penny rant doesn’t
make much &CENTs

New York Times columnist William Safire was penny-wise but pound-foolish when he called for the abolition of pennies in this newspaper the other day.

With a promise that after this particular sentence I will make no more cutesy penny-related wordplays, I'd just like to get my two cents in about whether to continue or cease production of the noble penny.

Safire, normally cogent and logical to an annoying degree, is on the wrong side of the penny debate. He latches onto the weakest argument for getting rid of pennies, that nothing costs a penny anymore. Nothing EVER cost a penny. Even pennies. There's more than a penny's worth of copper and zinc in every penny, making it actually worth somewhere between a nickel and a penny. But the government doesn't want to manufacture a new coin, especially one likely to be called a "pickel" or "ninny."

Pennies have more value than their technical worth as 1 percent of a dollar. They are the only coin known to bring luck. You find a nickel or dime on the ground, and all you get is a nickel or a dime. But if you find a penny, you get to make a wish, and all the day you'll have good luck. It's been scientifically proved. I'm afraid to think of what a hopeless, decrepit creature I would be today were it not for all those pennies I've found in parking lots over the years, staving off bad luck.

A penny is the only form of currency that parents will name their children after. Penny Marshall would never have become the great actress she is today if she had been named Quarter Marshall.

Even the outrageous rapper 50 Cent saw the marketing benefits of sticking with the lowly penny. Would he be the offensive, cool, not to mention rich guy he is today if his name was "Half Dollar" or "Four Bits"?

SAFIRE LAMENTS that all pennies do is take up space and hold up supermarket checkout lines. Look, the reason people are forced to go spelunking into their handbags and pockets looking for pennies is because of the idiotic practice merchants have of pricing items at $2.99 or $4.98. They think we're too stupid to know the item actually costs three bucks or five dollars. If merchants want to speed up checkout lines and save money, here's what they should do: If something costs about a dollar, charge 96 cents for it. Then, with the 4 cents excise tax, the shopper can cough up a dollar bill. If you are paying checkout clerks $6 an hour, that means you are paying them 10 cents a minute to make change.

Which brings us to another of Safire's complaints: that the penny is so useless there is not even a cent sign on keyboards anymore. That's not the penny's fault. That's the fault of computer geeks who decided to elevate the historically slacker @ sign to high station. There is a cent sign on the keyboard if you know where to look. Here's one: &CENT. Kind of cute, isn't it? Type option-4 on Macs or go to "insert symbol" on PCs to show the world you support common &CENTs. (Sorry.)

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail


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