Which Word Wednesday: Scrimp vs. Skimp

By August 10, 2011 language No Comments

In light of our nation’s budget crisis, I thought it would be helpful to familiarize ourselves with the language of cutbacks. I’m dedicating this week’s Which Word Wednesday to the task. Let’s take a look at the proper use for scrimp versus skimp.

Here are the definitions from the Oxford American Dictionary:

scrimp :: verb
be thrifty or parsimonious; economize

skimp :: verb
expend or use less time, money, or material on something than is necessary in an attempt to economize

These two verbs describe a restrained approach.

Scrimp however is used primarily for monetary use. According to Ron Evans, author of The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language, scrimp is “used chiefly of money and material goods” and implies frugality, “to economize severely” or “to be excessively sparing with or of.”1

Skimp is a bit trickier. Although it “is normally used to mean ‘give insufficient attention to,’ ” it can also mean “to be stingy or very thrifty.”1 Heidi Stevens, in an article for The Chicago Tribune, notes that “skimp is slightly harsher.”2

How do we remember the difference? Steve Kleinedler, American Heritage Dictionary supervising editor, helps with this distinction: “Skimp implies economizing while doing without something that is necessary. If you’re scrimping, your basic needs are being met, perhaps just in a much less fancy or expensive way. If you’re skimping, you’re probably leaving something important or necessary out.”2

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What’s my WWW verdict? When we scrimp, we have what we need—but we buy generic. When we skimp, we do without—even generic is too pricey, so we skip things we normally buy.

What’s your verdict? Does this economy cause you to scrimp or skimp? Do share in the comments.

Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Ron Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 182.
2. Heidi Stevens, “Spell-Checker Busters,” The Chicago Tribune, November 10, 2010.

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