Printable Version
Pronunciation: pawl-tri Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Meager, measly, negligible. 2. Trivial, insignificant, unimportant.

Notes: The comparative degree of paltry is still paltrier and paltriest, although in English the synthetic comparatives seem to be falling by the wayside in favor of analytic forms, more paltry and most paltry. The adverb is paltrily and the noun is paltriness (don't forget to replace the Y with an I).

In Play: The first sense is used widely in reference to money: "Graham was almost relieved by being fired from a job that paid such a paltry salary that he could barely make ends meet." The second sense of this word is heard in expressions like this: "Lucille found paltry respite from the blistering heat under the paltry shade offered by the jack tree."

Word History: The origin of today's Good Word is something of a mystery. It is apparently the obsolete noun paltry "rubbish, refuse" used as an adjective. If so, we find evidence of it in other Germanic languages, like Swedish palta "raggedy clothing", Danish pjalt "rag", and Dutch palterig "ragged, untidy, patched", but none outside Germanic. It was more widespread in the Germanic languages in the past. We find shreds of evidence around Germanic dialects today in West Frisian palterich "patched", Low German paltrig, palterig "in tatters", Norwegian dialectal pjaltre, Danish regional palt "rag". (Now let the gratitude that we offer our old friend and prolific contributor Jackie Strauss for her suggestion of today's mysterious Good Word not be paltry.)

Dr. Goodword,

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