Podcast niggardly

Printable Version
Pronunciation: nig-êrd-li Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Miserly, stingy, chintzy.

Notes: Today's Good Word represents collateral damage from political correctness in the US. Because it sounds so much like the "N-word" used aspersively to refer to African-Americans, it has fallen under the anathema which that word has earned, even though it is completely unrelated. In fact, in a widely publicized case, David Howard of the Washington, DC, mayor's staff was forced to resign in 1999 for having told his staff that, due to budget cutbacks, their office would have to manage funds "niggardly". Niggardly is the completely innocent adjective for niggard "miser" in a class with friendly, motherly, lawyerly. It may also be used as an adverb without change.

In Play: Niggardliness can be an attitude: "Nan Tucket is so niggardly that she fills out her wardrobe with clothes she sneaks from the Salvation Army old clothing drop-off box." On the other hand, what people do may be niggardly: "I would like to see the snobocrats in the top office try to get along on the niggardly raises they give us."

Word History: The word nygart, of uncertain origin, was floating around English as early as 1366. By 1559 the word nig "stingy" was firmly established and niggard is that word plus the French suffix -ard, also found in pejorative nouns like drunkard, dastard, and laggard. The root word probably came from Old Norse hnøggr "stingy", from Proto-Germanic *khnauwjaz which also gave Swedish njugg "frugal, stingy", and German genau "precise, exact". (We are so happy that Dee Smith has not been niggardly with the interesting words she discovers and shared this one with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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