Printable Version
Pronunciation: pit-êns Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. An inadequately small amount. 2. (Historical) A meager monetary request for food and clothing.

Notes: This word has no derivational family, but it does have a variant, pittancy, which is absolutely synonymous. Don't forget to double the T.

In Play: Today's word is usually associated with money. Can't you just hear a teenager saying: "Two dollars a week? That isn't an allowance; it's a pittance." It is rarely used figuratively, though it does make occasional appearances in figurative senses: "It was a beautiful sunny day, except for a brief pittance of rain."

Word History: Middle English borrowed pitance from Old French, where it meant "pity, compassion", but it also referred to an allowance for food to a monk or poor person. English-speakers apparently felt on T was a pittance, so added another. French inherited this word Medieval Latin pietantia, a noun built on pietan(t)s "showing compassion", the present participle of pietare "to show compassion" from Latin pietas "piety". French split this word in two: pitié "pity" and piété "piety", both of which English swiped. Pietare was derived from classical Latin pius "honest, honorable". English just added an O in the spelling to get pious. Pius is probably a corruption of purus "pure", which is a derivation of PIE peue- "to purify, cleanse".

Dr. Goodword,

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