Printable Version
Pronunciation: skin-flint Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A miser, a niggardly person, a tightwad, a person so greedy he would try to get skin from a flint.

Notes: Today's Good Word may be the longest word in English that is pronounced the way it is spelled (see Pronunciation). The now famous poem by Gerald Trenite The Chaos reflects the more usual relationships between English pronunciation and spelling. In other respects, though, this word is not alone in the world; it possesses an adjective, skinflinty, which boasts an adverb, skinflintily, and a noun, skinflintiness.

In Play: For some reason, skinflintiness is most often associated with old people: "That old skinflint has the first nickel he ever earned." That may be the result of the ability to manage money coming later in life. Whatever the reason, it is unfair; skinflints come in all sizes, genders, and ages: "Is my baby already such a skinflint that she won't share her cookie with her daddy?" You guess the age here.

Word History: The first component of today's word, skin, was borrowed from Norwegian skinn, cousin of Danish skind. It goes back to Proto-Indo-European sek- "to cut" plus a suffix -n. With a suffix -s, it became Old English seax [sayks] "knife", which today is zax "hatchet for trimming roof shingles". With both -s and -n, this root may be responsible for Saxon [sksn] "people with the knives", though this derivation is not without its problems. In Latin the root emerged in secare "to cut", the root at the root of a large series of English borrowings, including secant, intersect, insect, and section. Oh, yes: English sickle is also a derivative of the same root. (Let us all be grateful that Larry Brady, our Stargazer in the Agora, is not a skinflint with his words, for it was he who suggested this one for today.)

Dr. Goodword,

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