Old English pening, penig, Northumbrian penning "penny," from Proto-Germanic *panninggaz (cf. Old Norse penningr, Swedish pänning, Danish penge, Old Frisian panning, Old Saxon pending, Middle Dutch pennic, Dutch penning, Old High German pfenning, German Pfennig, not recorded in Gothic, where skatts is used instead), of unknown origin.
The English coin was originally set at one-twelfth of a shilling and was of silver, later copper, then bronze. There are two plural forms: pennies of individual coins, pence collectively. In translations it rendered various foreign coins of small denomination, especially Latin denarius, whence comes its abbreviation d.
As American English colloquial for cent, it is recorded from 1889. Penny-a-liner "writer for a journal or newspaper" is attested from 1834. Penny dreadful "cheap and gory fiction" dates from c.1870. Phrase penny-wise and pound-foolish is recorded from c.1600. Penny-pincher "miserly person" is recorded from 1906 (as an adjective penny-pinching is recorded from 1858, American English). Penny loafers attested from 1960.