Image by Alan2641 from http://www.pxleyes.com/
When you hear someone says that they would give you a penny for your thoughts, you might imagine yourself getting paid for your all the things that go through your head, and consequently, you would be rich! But that is why this is just an idiomatic expression. It does not mean exactly how it sounds.
Meaning and Use
The simplest meaning for “a penny for your thoughts” is: “What’s on your mind?” or “Tell me what you are thinking,” especially when someone looks pensive, or they haven’t said very much and have been quiet for a while about a specific topic. It is an invitation to a person who looks like they have something to say, but hesitant or lost in thought to express their ideas.
Looks like the phrase is at least 400 years old, and so getting a precise etymology may be hard. James Rogers in the “The Dictionary of Clichés” says that the saying is from a time when the British penny was worth a significant sum. In 1535, Sir Thomas More wrote in A Treatyce upon the last thynges (‘Four Last Things’):
In such wise yt not wtoute som note & reproch of suche vagaraunte mind, other folk sodainly say to them: a peny for your thought.
A rough paraphrase of the above is “when people notice that someone appears disengaged and wish them to rejoin the conversation, they ask ‘a penny for your thoughts’.”
So, a penny for your thoughts? Let us know what you’re thinking and how this is helpful for your English learning process. Contact us at ELISpecialPrograms@MissouriState.edu.