I just wrote a message on the CSFBL forums where I said, “My two cents.” Which got me wondering… How long has the expression, “my two cents” (and its many variations) been around?
- The American phrase “my two cents” derives from the British phrase, “my two pennies worth.”
- That British phrase derives from a 16th century expression, “a penny for your thoughts” (not the later “a penny for your thoughts, nickel for your kiss, a dollar to tell me you love me”).
OK, so the “my two cents” phrase has origins going back some 500 years. How do we figure out how much two cents from the 16th century is worth today, considering inflation?
Turns out this isn’t easy to figure out. I was able to discern a few things in my research.
- The 16th century was in the heart of the Price Revolution, a period of great inflation.
- Wikipedia provides a fine graph of US inflation since around 1670. Unfortunately, raw data isn’t available before 1774.
- A study by Oregon State University helps us lets us calculate the value of money from 1774 to 2018 (estimated).
Using this, we can determine that two cents in 1774 is worth 51 cents in 2007. Needless to say, the first person to coin the phrase, “my two cents,” even in today’s terms, wasn’t saying much.