Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Kelly from Traverse City called in to discuss the flexibility of the word pinch(ed). As examples, he mentioned “he got pinched when he broke the law,” “use just a pinch of salt,” and “she was pinched by her boyfriend.” Ron Jolly threw in “pinch hitter,” as used in baseball.

It came from an Old French word meaning to nip with the fingers, and that’s still one of the principal meanings, but as Kelly pointed out, it has developed multiple meanings over the centuries. As a verb, these are some of the meanings for pinch found in the Oxford English Dictionary:

  • to squeeze or nip between thumb and finger [1230]
  • to be mean or parsimonious [1325]
  • to pleat or flute a garment [1387]
  • to crimp or coil hair [1398]
  • to put stress upon [1400]
  • to bring into position by squeezing [1425]
  • to inflict bodily pain on [1425]
  • to compress the edge of (a piece of pastry) between the fingers [1425]
  • to trap or pin down (a person) in an argument [1450]
  • to cause (a face, person, etc.) to appear pinched or drawn [1548]
  • to be impoverished or in financial straits [1549]
  • of an item of clothing: to constrict (the body or a part of the body) painfully [1574]
  • to steal (a thing); to rob (a person) [1632]
  • to remove with the fingers to encourage growth or flowering [1669]
  • to be jammed, crushed, or trapped between two objects [1700]
  • to arrest, catch, apprehend, take into custody [1789]
  • figuratively, to take a moment to convince oneself that something (usually good or pleasurable) is real [1833]

Pinch- as a combining form led to many words. Among them are pinchbar, a crowbar; pinchbelly, a person miserly about food; pinch bottle, a bottle with indented sides; pinch-eyed, having squinting eyes; pinchfart, a miser; pinch-spotted, covered with marks made by pinches; and pinch wheel, a roulette wheel that has been illegally altered so that the operator may stop it at will.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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