December 21, 2014
- pittance (noun)
- What does it mean?
- : a small portion, amount, or allowance especially of money
- How do you use it?
- In Charles Dickens' _A Christmas Carol_, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge pays his clerk Bob Cratchit little more than a pittance with which he must support his large family.
- Are you a word wiz?
Bob Cratchit had a large family, but relatives of the word "pittance" are rather few. Which words below do you think are cousins of "pittance"?"Pity," "pious," and "pittance" can all be traced back to the Latin word "pius," meaning "holy." "Pity" showed up in the 13th century, and derived from a Latin noun related to "pius"--"pietas"--which referred both to holiness and the compassion felt for someone who was unhappy. English took the "compassion" sense of "pietas" as "pity." "Pious" was a direct descendant of "pius," arriving in English in the 15th century and picking up the extra "-o-" during its trip through Middle English. But how does "pittance" figure in? The word "pietas" influenced the medieval French word "pitance," which referred to a charitable offering given to religious houses. This offering was generally small, and it was this connotation that carried through to the modern "pittance."