Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A Miser by Any Other Name . . . .



David from Portland asked about the words cheapskate, tightwad, and skinflint.  Someone else added money-grubber. All are slang terms for a miser.

The OED says that the origin of cheapskate is unknown. One form of skate originally referred to a poor, worn-out, decrepit horse. Shortly thereafter, it referred to a mean or contemptible person. The addition of cheap highlights penuriousness. World Wide Words suggests that skate or skite was a contemptuous Scots word for a person who talks nonstop but makes little sense.

Tightwad had two components. Tight meant snug or securely bound. A wad was something bound up tightly, such as a roll of banknotes.

Skinflint was a variation on “to skin a flint,” meaning to use a piece of flint to start a fire until it was worn down to an impossible thinness. A flintstone was such a necessary item that it was ludicrous that one would take a chance on wearing one down to uselessness.

As for money-grubber, a grubber was someone who dug in the ground or among ruins to find things. The earlier word grub meant a short, dwarfish fellow or a dull industrious drudge.


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