Penny wise, Pound Foolish

penny wise, pound foolish

to be extremely careful about small amounts of money and not careful enough about larger amounts of money

from Cambridge Dictionaries Online


Last night, K and I were in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner (salad and soup mostly, seeing as I had gotten home pretty late and I don’t like to go to bed on  a full stomach), debating the pros and cons of a run to our local combini* for an after dinner treat.  I made a command decision against going.  Woo-Hoo!  We saved almost ¥1000.  Which is nice, but I realized that sometimes we can be penny wise, but pound foolish.

This proverb is originally British (in the US, we have pennies but no pounds), and dates back to at least the early 17th Century (source).  It seems even more useful today, when even regular people deal with large sums of money, credit cards, mortgages, etc.  I’ve heard it most commonly used as a warning to think more carefully about how we spend our money.

P:  Hey look!  If I sign up for a store credit card, they’ll give me a 2% discount on our (very expensive) eyeglasses!

K:  That’s true, but can you pay for the glasses in one installment?  If not, you will end up paying more because of the interest.  You don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish.

P:  Good point.  I already have too many credit cards anyway.


This proverb isn’t only for talking about money.  It can also be useful to explain that people are ignoring the big, important things while paying too much attention to trivial details.

K:  I decided to clean up and organize the closet today. I found a new way to fold and line up my socks so I can find them more easily!

P:  How long did that take? The sock project?

K:  About an hour. Or so.

P:  And you finished cleaning up the whole closet?

K:  er…

P:  Don’t you think you’re being a little penny wise, pound foolish with your time?


* For any native english readers:  combini is the katakana-ized version of convenience store.  For our native Japanese readers:  Katakana is bad!  Okay, it’s not bad, per se, but it isn’t English.  I’ve lived in Japan for a million years, so I usually understand katakana-ized words.  Nobody else will.

penny wise (and) pound foolish


from weblio

Please take a moment and click to help our blog ranking!

にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語学習者へ

Born Under a Bad Sign


The Drinking Here Should Withhold.

It’s no secret that there’s a lot of bad Janglish (I prefer this word to “Engrish”) all over Japan, and a lot of that is on signs.  Silly, easily avoidable errors, like spelling “city” with “sh” aren’t all that interesting, even if they are funny to my inner thirteen-year old.

This sign, found in the cafe corner of my local supermarket, is a more complicated affair.

First, it almost works as a sentence.  Even if that sentence is nonsensical.  There’s some transitive / intransitive word confusion, but the word order kinda works:  The Drinking (noun/gerund subject) here (location) should withhold (predicate/verb).  In this sentence, there would need to be an object, and “The Drinking” would be withholding that object from… the customer?  In that same way that, for example, an Osaka taxi driver once withheld a ride from me.

The problem is that the author confused the subject and the predicate.

The easiest fix is:  Please withhold from drinking here.

This is still a little confusing, because the Japanese explicitly states that it is only alcohol which should not be drunk – an important detail in a coffee nook – but this isn’t made clear in English.  The original Japanese also specifies that this applies to the “Eat-In Corner” – which in itself is quirky Katakana English, but really isn’t so bad.  I don’t think it’s necessary, though.  “Withhold” is a little overly formal for my taste.  So is “refrain”, but I like it better anyway.

So, a more precise sign would read:  Please refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages here.

Or more casually:  Please don’t drink alcohol here.

All of which are much more polite than the sign we would get in the U.S.


Please take a moment and click to help our blog ranking!

にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語学習者へ