• paucity •
paw-sê-tee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: Fewness, insufficient quantity or number, scarcity, dearth.
Notes: This noun is almost a lexical orphan with only a few ancient relatives. Paucify was used in the sense of "make fewer" in the 17th and 18th centuries but hasn't been seen or heard from since. Pauciloquy "use of few words in speaking" came up in the middle of the 17th, then again in the middle of the 19th century, so it may not go away. The adjective from this word, pauciloquent "using few words", has been sighted as recently as 2002.
In Play: Too few of any countable items bespeak a paucity: "I like a spare writing style, but Reese Tatum writes with such a paucity of words that his memos are often incomprehensible." Many of us feel paucity every day: "The paucity of tasty items in my new diet bodes ill for its success."
Word History: Today's Good Word goes back to Latin paucus "little", made up of the original Proto-Indo-European word, pau- "few, little" with a suffix -k. Paucus went on to become Spanish poco "little", as in Hablo un poco de español "I speak a little Spanish", and French peu "little", as in Je parle un peu de français "I speak a little French". With the suffix -r the same root arrived at Latin puer "boy", which underlies English puerile. But this form also made it to Old English as feawa "few", since PIE [p] became [f] regularly in Germanic languages. That word today, of course, is few.
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