Following on from my previous post on money, it occurred to me that 1½d was almost always pronounced three ha’pence, and less often a penny ha’penny while 1½p was always one and a half pence. The abbreviation for the old penny was d, standing for the Latin denarius, just as s stood not for shilling but solidus, and £ for libra. We have kept the pound symbol, but substituted p for the penny. As a result, its most frequent pronunciation is /piː/. Does any other nation abbreviate one of its major currency units to its first letter?
Apparently oddly, we often hear about a one pence piece. I’ve even been told quite firmly that the coin says ‘one new pence’ or more recently ‘one pence’ on it. No it doesn’t: it says either ‘one penny’ or (on the coins dated for the first few years after 1971) ‘one new penny’. However, I was once told that shortly after decimalization, a sign appeared in the Ladies toilets in Harrod’s store, that said ‘Please use one new pence pieces’ (the cost of ‘spending a penny’ had now rocketed by 240% overnight!). When a customer remonstrated with the attendant that it ought to have said ‘Please use one new penny pieces’, the reply was that /ɪts ˈwɜːf ˈtuː ən ˈɑːf jə ˈnoʊ/.