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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Feb 14, 2018 11:25 pm

• pinchpenny •

Pronunciation: pin(t)sh-pe-nee • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun

Meaning: 1. Miserly, stingy, niggardly, penny-pinching. 2. Characterized by a scarcity of money, as 'a pinchpenny budget'.

Notes: Basically an adjective, today's Good Word may be used freely as a noun referring to a miserly, stingy person. Both have been replaced by the phrases penny pinching and penny pincher, respectively. I personally like the rarer, old fashioned compounds like pickpocket, scofflaw, and today's word. They decorate the language and give it a special, unique character.

In Play: We think mostly of pinchpenny as a personal noun: "Daddy is such an old pinchpenny, he wouldn't even buy me a used car to drive to school." Although today's word is used mostly as a noun, don't forget it serves as an adjective, too: "Our pinchpenny boss probably won't give us a bonus this year; he'll keep all the tax cut for himself."

Word History: Today's Good Word is one of several archaic inactive compounds, like pinchback "miser", pinchbar "crowbar", pinch-water "low tide". It is obviously a compound comprising pinch + penny. Pinch was pinchen in Middle English, borrowed from Old French pincer "to pinch", akin to current Italian pinzare "to sting" and Spanish pinchar "to prick, sting", both derived from a Romance imitative root pints- of unknown origin. The origin of penny is also a mystery. In Britain, this word has a plural for individual coins, pennies, and a collective for a group of coins, pence, coincidentally the name of the US vice president. It has cousins everywhere among Germanic and Slavic languages, German Pfennig "penny", Danish penning "money", Dutch penning "penny", Swedish peng "coin"; Polish pieniądze, Czech peníze, and Slovak peniaze—all plural nouns meaning "money". However, the proto-word they all derived from has been lost in the fogs of time.
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George Kovac
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Re: Pinchpenny

Postby George Kovac » Thu Feb 15, 2018 12:10 pm

Dr. Goodword’s definition lists “niggardly” as a synonym for pinchpenny. I do not disapprove. Its use in this context is wholly condign.

But that brings to mind recent controversies about uses of particular words that others find offensive. Yes, of course, I am aware, as most folks who study language are, that “niggardly” derives from a Scandinavian word, not from Latin, and that nothing in the word’s history relates to the color black, or to what we politely call the “N-word.”

But the word niggardly does in fact give offense. The most intelligent discussion of this dilemma, in my opinion, comes from none other than the late Christopher Hitchens, the brilliant, literate, pugnacious writer who sneered at political correctness. For example, Hitchens published a scathing book about Mother Teresa’s mission. At a panel discussion I attended, Hitchens smugly announced that he was not going to modulate his rebuke of a critic on the panel “just because she is in a wheelchair.” And he then threatened a fistfight with a rabbi on the panel who (correctly as it later turned out) pointed out an offensive factual error in Hitchens’ book describing Orthodox practices.

So Hitchens is smart and a jerk. I would not have expected him to tread softly on the ill-informed folks who take showy public offense over the use of “niggardly.” To my surprise, Hitchens has convincingly argued that the word should be retired. I have read him make this point more than once, and here is one example: ... taboo.html

Hitchens was no tender snowflake and had zero patience for political correctness. But he correctly argued—as have Dr. Goodword and others when writing in this forum—that language is not logic. Words are cultural semiotics, conveying not just surface meanings but a complex collection of contexts and nuanced cultural references. The references which a word accretes are not a logical process or even an accurate one, as folk etymologies demonstrate. A word does not have a single fixed objective meaning like a numeral or mathematical symbol does. Words are freighted with multiple signals. By this test, Hitchens thought “niggardly” was troublesome and dispensable. The second part of his argument was that the word was not unique and that synonyms were available to convey the intended meaning without the distracting baggage. Hitchens thenceforth chose the word “parsimonious.”

“Pinchpenny” would also work if your stylistic goal is to sound more demotic.

Postscript: To be fair to the late Mr. Hitchens, about a year after his childish threats to the rabbi, I read a magazine interview with Hitchens in which he referred to the incident, admitted his error and apologized to the rabbi. Hitchens was no pinchpenny when it came to contrition.
Last edited by George Kovac on Fri Feb 16, 2018 11:27 am, edited 2 times in total.
“The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words.” Colum McCann “But Always Meeting Ourselves” New York Times, June 15, 2009

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Re: Pinchpenny

Postby LukeJavan8 » Thu Feb 15, 2018 12:44 pm

I always pick up pennies I find on the street. I guess I am a
-----please, draw me a sheep-----

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