English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What does this mean? I'm English and I've never come across the meaning!

share|improve this question
I'm slightly surprised, as this is a British expression. :) – Noldorin Jan 17 '11 at 14:31
exactly, i've never thought to ask – benhowdle89 Jan 17 '11 at 14:36
Fair enough. There are certainly many niche quotes and slang words I've heard but am not familiar with... – Noldorin Jan 17 '11 at 14:44
up vote 5 down vote accepted

In for a penny, in for a pound (idiom):

"If something is worth doing then it is a case of in for a penny, in for a pound, which means that when gambling or taking a chance, you might as well go the whole way and take all the risks, not just some."

Americanized form: "In for a dime, in for a dollar."

share|improve this answer
Is the American version common? I have only every heard the English version, even in Australia where we've had dollars since '66. – dave Jan 17 '11 at 17:39
@dave No, you only hear the English one. – tchrist Jun 5 '12 at 3:00
I am in the U.S., and I don't think I've ever heard the American version. I would understand it if it was used, though. – JLG Jun 5 '12 at 3:00

It's an idiom for indicating that you might as well commit fully to the venture being referenced.

That's my take on it anyway.

share|improve this answer

I've also heard the related proverb (with a slightly different twist, though): “he that steals an egg will steal an ox”.

share|improve this answer

What it actually means is related to crime: if you steal a penny and will go to jail for it, you may as well steal a pound. Either way you're in as in in jail (or gaol, depending on which side of the Atlantic will be prosecuting you). It obviously hails from a time when a penny and a pound were worth much more than they are today.

So if you've already violated a principle to any degree, it doesn't matter how far you go past the violation threshold, so you may as well derive maximum benefit.

share|improve this answer
And your evidence that this is necessarily to do with crime or violation? I think you are confusing it with "May as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb". – Colin Fine Jan 17 '11 at 16:47
@Colin Fine: Perhaps we're both right. The sense given in Wiktionary (see also dictionary.reference.com/browse/in+for+a+penny,+in+for+a+pound) is "Originally with reference to the fact that if one owed a penny, one might as well owe a pound, as the penalties for non-payment were virtually identical in severity." This is from a time when debtors was tantamount to crime, and owing money could land you in the slammer. I've always heard it used in the "hanged for a sheep" context. But I'll admit the distinction may be blurred. – Robusto Jan 17 '11 at 17:22
Yes, but you've added the "in" = "in jail" to this, which I believe is unwarranted. – Colin Fine Jan 18 '11 at 11:23
@Colin Fine: The penalties spoken of above involving being in jail, so I believe it is warranted. – Robusto Jan 18 '11 at 16:32
Not in what you've quoted, they don't. To me "in for a penny" is the same kind of "in" as "Right, we're going to play poker/go for a drive/have dinner/rob a bank. Who's in?", and I want evidence before I accept that it is anything to do with jail. – Colin Fine Jan 18 '11 at 17:20

protected by RegDwigнt Jun 5 '12 at 8:45

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.