- Strong disinclination to spend money or other assets
- Acute cheapness; meanness
Do you find yourself constantly complaining about the prices of everyday things? "Milk is $4.30 a gallon now?" "Why does it feel like I'm emptying my wallet every time I fill my car?" "Yikes - a bottle of water here will set me back $7.00!" Okay, that last one is definitely a rip-off (as attendees of Super Bowl 50 realized), but a strong unwillingness to part with even a cent more than necessary is a tell-tale sign of parsimony. If you just want to be a little thrifty, though, don't worry - it's only when frugality goes overboard that it becomes parsimony.
Parsimony describes the quality of being severely reluctant to expend resources. "Resources" here is usually understood to mean "money," but parsimony can certainly be used to discuss economy in regards to any type of asset (although, let's face it, frugality of any kind often goes back to finances). For instance, a hesitancy to use your car because you want to save fuel would be just as much an example of parsimony as driving around town obsessively looking for the cheapest gas price before filling up.
Note the use of the word "obsessively" in the above example. That's important - it's a sense of severity, an absolute fixation on preserving assets that sets parsimony above simple judiciousness. Those who exhibit parsimony aren't just careful, but rather can't help but see any situation as a chance to lose more money than necessary. This reluctance to spend can dominate social interactions, leading others to view the people who exhibit it as selfish or spiteful. In fact, this association is indicative of a very similar yet slightly different application of parsimony, which describes a quality of unbending miserliness. This usage describes the worst sense of stinginess imaginable, a trait that frequently stems from greed and carries with it a perceptible tinge of nastiness.
Example: A man of considerable parsimony, Claude was known for lying about his age in order to receive senior discounts.
Example: Rather than spending the money to take his car to the garage, Claude indulged his inner sense of parsimony and attempted the repairs himself. Things did not go well.
Example: Claude's refusal to even look at the Salvation Army collector only reinforced his reputation for parsimony.
Luckily for us English speakers, the Latin language has been anything but parsimonious with its contribution to our lexicon. The root prefix of parsimony, pars, comes from the Latin verb parcere, which means "to save" or "to use sparingly" (think of "parceling" something out in small doses). This would join with the suffix monia, a construction used in Latin to mark any general action or status, to form the Latin parsimonia, an adjective that means "prudence" or "caution (in regards to spending)." This cognate would take the form of the English parsimony by the early fifteenth century.
Parsimonious: This adjective describes the quality of acute thrift or miserliness.
Example: Claude's parsimonious attitude led many to compare him to the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge.
Parsimoniously: This adverb describes an action as being motivated by, displaying, or characterized by an extreme disinclination to spend money.
Example: Claude parsimoniously refused to do his Christmas shopping anywhere other than the local dollar store.
Simony: If you've ever studied the history of Christianity, you might be familiar with simony, a term that describes the act of conferring a church office or position in exchange for money - sort of a clerical version of graft. Historically, simony has obviously been looked down on (for the most part) by the Churches whose offices were being sold. While it's rarely an issue in modern times, simony was widespread specifically among the Catholic Church during the 16th century, so much so that it helped to motivate Martin Luther's historic protests preceding the Protestant Reformation. But while the terms have similar spellings and are both often connected to money, simony and parsimony are otherwise unrelated.
From O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi":
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
In this passage, O. Henry uses parsimony to characterize the character Della's preoccupation with saving as much money as she can. Della's parsimony, though, originates from penury and a desire to buy her husband a Christmas present rather than miserliness.
- Parsimony is particular about money
- Parsimony particularly saves money
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of parsimony. Did you use parsimony in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.