One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
A penny which is debased or counterfeit. In later use chiefly in the proverb "a bad penny always returns (also turns up)", and (now especially) in similative or figurative use in allusion to this, with reference to the predictable, and often unwanted, return of a disreputable or prodigal person after some absence, or (more generally) to the continual recurrence of someone or something.
Late Middle English; earliest use found in William Langland (c1325–c1390), poet. From bad + penny.
bad penny/ˌbad ˈpɛni/
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