Etymology of the term NIGGARDLY

As I remember from grammar school “niggardly” meant stingy and only superficially resembled the offensive N word which I refuse to use. But now I must search on the etymology:

The word dates back to 1621 and Burton’s “The Anatomy of Melancholy” (I have a copy here, but perhaps it is on line in public domain).

Derived from the Old Norse verb nigla, meaning “to fuss about small matters”. Cognate to the English word “niggle”, which retains the original Norse meaning.

* 1852 CE: William and Robert Chambers, Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal

[H]is heart swelled within him, as he sat at the head of his own table, on the occasion of the house-warming, dispensing with no niggard hand the gratuitous viands and unlimited beer, which were at once to symbolise and inaugurate the hospitality of his mansion.

A miser or stingy person; a skinflint.

* 1618: John Taylor, The Pennyles Pilgrimage OR The Money-lesse Perambulation of John Taylor

All his pleasures were social; and while health and fortune smiled upon him, he was no niggard either of his time or talents to those who needed them.

This word, along with its adverbial form niggardly, should be used with caution. Owing to the sound similarity to the highly inflammatory racial epithet nigger, these words can cause unnecessary confusion and unintentional offense. The word is not related to the word nigger (a corruption of the Spanish word negro, meaning “black”), though someone unfamiliar with the word niggardly might take offense due to the phonetic similarity between the words.

Nota bene: even though I am now armed with all of this etymological wisdom, I would still hesitate to stroll around Harlem chanting a mantra of “niggardly” aloud since passers-by might not share my scholarly bent and might misunderstand and take offense and perhaps beat the crap out of me.



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