What Does In for a Penny, In for a Pound Mean?

In for a Penny, In for a Pound Meaning

Definition: If a person decides to do something, he should fully commit to it. Do not do something half-heartedly.

Origin of In for a Penny, In for a Pound

This expression has existed since the 1600s, but the exact origin is unclear.

The original meaning was an admonition against debt, where it meant that if one owed just one penny, he might as well owe a whole pound.

An early use of the expression can be found in Thomas Ravebscroft’s 1695 Canterbury Guest, a comic play:

  • Well than, O’er shooes, o’er boots. And In for a Penny, in for a Pound.

It has been quoted ever since, especially by British writers, which makes sense since the pound is British currency. Charles Dickens used the term in three of his novels: Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, and The Old Curiosity Shop.

When an American uses the phrase, usually he or she retains the word pound. The word dollar is not substituted (much like penny wise, pound foolish)

Examples of In for a Penny, In for a Pound

in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound-originTwo friends are talking about doing something that’s new and scary to them.

Kira: I’ve been trying to push myself to do things that scare me in order to overcome my fear.

Dan: Wow, really?

Kira: Yeah. And because I’m afraid of heights, so I decided to climb that big tree over there.

Dan: That’s great! You should totally do that. Actually, I have a better idea. Let’s go mountain climbing!

Kira: Mountain climbing?

Dan: Wait! Even better, let’s go bungee jumping!

Kira: No way! That’s way too scary!

Dan: Come on. In for a penny, in for a pound!

in-for-a-penny-out-for-a-poundThe following example involves two women at a bar celebrating one of their birthdays.

Gertrude: I’m going to order myself a glass of white wine. Can I get you one as well?

Ruby: Oh, no thank you. I don’t really drink much alcohol.

Gertrude: Come on! It’s my birthday. We’re celebrating. You can make an exception for one night, right?

Ruby: You’re right. You stay here. I’ll go order a white wine for you, and a few shots of tequila for myself.

Gertrude: Wow! That’s a big change, going from no drinking at all to a few shots of hard liquor.

Ruby: Well, I always say in for a penny in for a pound.

More Examples

This excerpt is about an actress’s portrayal of a British prime minister.

  • Streep “grasps and projects one great central truth about Thatcher. With her, it was in for a penny, in for a pound,” he says. –LA Times

This excerpt is from a book that someone is reviewing. The main character chooses to interact when she probably shouldn’t have said anything. However, once she does begin to interact, she chooses not to back away.

  • The words cut through the darkness and the girls, six in all, turned en masse to face her, varying expressions of surprise on their faces. She probably should not have called attention to herself, but this was definitely a case of in for a penny, in for a pound. –USA Today

Summary

The phrase in for a penny in for a pound is another way to say that if you’re going to do something, you should do it all the way and hold nothing back.

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