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PIN MONEY - Was it ever really about jewellery?

Christine Reeves

In a Guardian piece tackling workplace sexism, the mention of women no longer being told they're working for "pin money" caught my eye. But what's the deal with this term? Does it have any literal connection to pins?

Nope, "pin money" isn't about actual lace pins. It's a 17th-century expression that sounds more belittling than it truly is. Today, it simply means a small amount of money, maybe for little extras. Since the days of the Suffragists, though, it's been used to diminish the wages of working women.

In its earliest form, "pin money" meant an annual sum allocated to a woman for personal expenses, especially for clothing. The term first appeared in a 1674 legal case involving Lord Leigh and Lady Leigh. She sought a settlement of £200 per annum, including "pin-mony."

Now, why "pins"? The French term "épingles," meaning pins, had an interesting role. In 15th-century France, it meant a gift given to a woman after a business transaction with her husband. The French also used it to denote money given to a woman for a service rendered. In English, "pins" was used similarly in the 16th century.

While "pin money" historically referred to a woman's private expenditure allowance, it evolved to mean a trivial amount of money in the early 1700s. The derogatory use emerged around the turn of the 20th century, downplaying working women's earnings as mere incidentals. The term "pin-money clerk" emerged, implying women worked for trifles, not out of necessity.

So, the next time you hear "pin money," it's not about actual pins but about a historical and, at times, derogatory view of women's earnings.