12 Old, Cheap Words for the Stingy
We all have one friend who, when the bill arrives, is MIA. That friend, if they can ever be located, doesn’t believe in tipping either: They’re a true skinflint who holds their money in a death grip. Though skinflint and tightwad are terrific words, there are quite a few synonyms and adjectives sprinkled throughout the history of English. Even when the subject matter is parsimonious, the lexicon is always giving and ready to buy another round.
Many stingy words mention the hand or fist, and this one equates dryness with cheapness. The Oxford English Dictionary examples include mentions of “filthy dry-fisted knights” and “dryfisted patrons.” Today we’d talk about cheap bastards or miserly garbage people.
This unpleasant-sounding word rhymes with stingy and may be a blend with mean. Mingy has been around just over 100 years and is used in an absolutely juicy insult from a 1912 letter by poet Rupert Brooke: “I called you a mingy and coprologous Oxford poetaster.” Rarely, mingy can also be a noun, as seen in a reprimand from 1939’s To Love and to Cherish by Michael Egan: “Don't be a mingy, father; they only cost a shilling.”
Of course, narrow-minded is a common word for someone with a one-track mind, but this word applies to someone with an unusually svelte soul. Narrow-souled has referred to various types of pettiness since the 1600s, including penny-pinching. At times, narrow all by itself has also meant stingy, if you’re looking for a new euphemism for an embarrassing companion.
Partan was originally a word for a crab in the 1400s, and in the 1800s it evolved into an insult for people who were a bit, well, crabby. From there, it spawned a variety of insults such as partan-faced and partan-handed, which suggests a rather specific sort of closed-fistedness.
The idea is that your purse is so tightly wrapped—perhaps with ropes, chains, and crazy glue—that it’s never opening again. The first known use, by playwright James Shirley in 1653, includes a preview of the next term: “I may Tell you, my Father is a little costive, Purse-bound, his pension cannot find me tooth-picks.”
The first uses of costive, from around 1400, refer to a constrictive state of affairs far beyond the scope of this list: the costive are constipated. By the 1600s, this word for hard, unyielding bowels had spread to vicious, close-fisted tightwads. Costive could also refer to any type of ungenerous behavior, as seen in a 1606 use by George Chapman in the amusingly titled Sir Gyles Goosecappe: “Is your Lorde Costiue of laughter, or laxatiue of laughter?” Apparently the bowel-y origins of this word were not forgotten.
This mostly self-explanatory word has had a few meanings over the years, but in the 1700s it meant the opposite of a spend-all. Poet John Keats used the term in an 1820 letter that offered an unflattering description: “There is old Lord Burleigh, the high-priest of economy, the political save-all.”
8. AND 9. CHINCHERD AND CHINCHY
Today chintzy is still used as a synonym for stingy, but there are some older relatives with similar meanings: chincherd (a noun) and chinchy (an adjective). They all derive from chinch, an adjective for tight-fisted behavior since the 1400s.
In the 1500s and 1600s, this was a common word for a miser. Snudge can also be a verb: You’re snudging if you’re holding your wallet tight in the manner of Ebenezer Scrooge. This word demands a revival. When someone stiffs us on a bill, we should say they snudged us or acted like a total snudge.
11. AND 12. CLUSTERFIST AND CLOSE-FIST
First found in the 1600s, clusterfist can refer to a few types of disappointing individuals. In one sense, cluster means clumsy, and a clusterfist is a type of oaf or boor. But cluster can also mean closed, and this is a synonym for another tightwaddy term, close-fist. This 1655 use by Charles Sorel describes a disgusting lack of generosity in the important realm of cake: “My owne cakes..of which he never proffered me so much as the least crum, so base a Cluster-fist was he.”