Saturday, July 16, 2011


This tracks back to a Greek word meaning pity. The Greek word ἐλεημοσύνη [eleemosyne], an expansion of the shorter word, meant compassionateness. The modern sense pertains to an act motivated by charity.

The word alms is inextricably bound up in the word eleemosynary. It signified a dependence on alms for survival. In Old English, alms was spelled aelmysse, making the connection with the original Greek more obvious.

The word pittance now means a very small or inadequate amount of something, but originally, it, too, was connected to the word alms. Originally, it was alms in the form of food given to monks or paupers—the product of pity.

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

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