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.
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