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Words We Use: Skimp and Scrimp

Photo of Barbara Eden in costume as Jeannie
This costume from a 1960s comedy was considered too “skimpy” for television.

Recently, “skimp”  was the winning word on the popular online game Wordle.  “Skimp” is a commonly used five letter word, but you might not  know how to use it, so just for fun, I turned to my new bff, ChatGPT for help. I asked ChatGPT to write a paragraph using “skimp.”  Here’s the ChatGPT-generated story:

When it comes to quality, I never like to skimp. Whether it’s purchasing a new laptop or preparing a gourmet meal, I believe in investing time and resources to ensure the best outcome. Skimping on essential components often leads to disappointment and regret. Instead, I prefer to be thorough and meticulous in my approach, knowing that the extra effort will pay off in the long run. It’s important to recognize that cutting corners can compromise the overall experience and end up costing more in the end. Therefore, I choose to prioritize excellence and avoid the temptation to skimp on what truly matters.

Can you guess the meaning of “skimp” from the above paragraph?  

Let’s try an easier version, also written by ChatGPT. The simpler version mighthelp you decipher some of the words I put in bold above:

When it comes to quality, I always avoid skimping. Whether it’s buying a new laptop or cooking a fancy meal, I think it’s important to invest time and resources to get the best result. If you try to save on important parts, you’ll often end up disappointed and regretful. Instead, I prefer to be careful and thorough in what I do, knowing that the extra effort will be worth it in the long term. It’s important to understand that taking shortcuts can affect the overall experience and end up being more expensive. That’s why I choose to focus on excellence and resist the temptation to skimp on what really matters. 

Are you ready to take a guess?

Great!  To “skimp” means to do something without using adequate resources. These resources could be time, money, effort, etc. When you “skimp” you don’t use enough resources and the results could be disappointing.  

Note that in the first sentence of GPT’s paragraph, the word “skimping” is used. This is the gerund/noun form of the verb. This is how we often name activities in English. You have seen this form before in sentences such as: “I like swimming” or “Running is good exercise.”

“Skimp” also has an adjective form: “skimpy.”   We only use “skimpy” to describe certain things.  Small, inadequate portions of food are often called “skimpy.” If we see someone wearing clothing, such as a bathing suit, that doesn’t cover as much as it should, we might refer to that as a “skimpy bikini.”  Here are a couple of quick examples:

The restaurant was overpriced and the portions were skimpy.

It takes guts for a woman her age to wear a skimpy bikini. 

Sometimes people —  including native speakers — confuse the word “skimp” with the word “scrimp.” “Scrimp” rhymes with “skimp,” but these two words have different meanings.  They are not interchangeable. We often use “scrimp” as part of the expression: “to scrimp and save,”  but you can also use it alone. Here is a paragraph by my assistant, ChatGPT, using that expression:

In the early years of their marriage, Emily and Mark had to scrimp and save to make ends meet. With limited incomes and mounting expenses, they adopted a frugal lifestyle. They diligently tracked their spending, cut back on unnecessary luxuries, and constantly sought ways to save money. They skipped dining out, packed their lunches, and made their coffee at home. Every dollar saved was carefully earmarked for their dream of owning a home. Their dedication and perseverance paid off as they finally managed to accumulate enough savings for a down payment, and they joyfully moved into their own house, knowing that their years of scrimping and saving had been worthwhile.

The above  paragraph also contains several words, phrasal verbs, and expressions that you might not know, so I asked ChatGPT to give me a simpler version of the story. Comparing both versions will help you understand the vocabulary:

During the early years of their marriage, Emily and Mark had to be very careful with their money to make sure they had enough. They didn’t have much income, and their expenses kept increasing. So, they lived a simple life and didn’t spend money on things they didn’t really need. They scrimped and saved, watching how much they spent, avoiding going out to eat, bringing their own lunches, and making their coffee at home. They saved every dollar they could because they had a dream of buying their own house. Their hard work and determination paid off, and eventually, they had enough money saved to make a down payment on a house. They were very happy and felt that all the effort they had put into scrimping and saving had been worth it.

After reading both paragraphs, can you explain the meaning of “scrimp”? 

Great! To “scrimp” means to economize, usually in order to save enough money for a particular purpose. It implies that there is a need to “cut back” on expenses and/or to  be careful with spending, to live frugally in order to have enough for this future purpose. 

What do you think of ChatGPT’s sample paragraphs?  Do you think they provide good context and examples that help make these words easy to understand? Do you think ChatGPT will soon replace your humble English teacher?  

Homework:  Look up any words in the paragraph you don’t know.  You can ask ChatGPT to generate sentences if you need more examples!

Here is a very short quiz to help you remember how to use skimp and scrimp. (I created this myself with no help from ChatGPT!)

  1. When they said it was a luxury resort they meant it! The rooms were beautiful and had every amenity you could imagine. They didn’t  ___________________ (scrimp) (skimp) on anything.
  2.  Debbie was asked to change when she showed up at school wearing a ________ pair of shorts that violated the dress code. (scrimpy) (skimpy)
  3. They must have ____________ (scrimped) (skimped) (skipped) for years to pay for that wedding! 

Click to check answers: (more…)

Don’t Louse This Up! Using Lousy in Everyday Speech

Pearson Scott Foresman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lousy is a simple two syllable word that almost all native-English speaking Americans use. It’s not an “SAT word “ or a word you’re likely to encounter on the TOEFL. It probably won’t appear on your medical licensing test if you’re a doctor or a nurse, but it’s a word that your patients are likely to use. If you want to sound more natural and more like a native speaker, this is one to add to your everyday English. (more…)

It’s Elementary: How we talk about school in the United States.

Courtesy wikipedia commons: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/75th_St-Elderts_Ln_45b_-_FK_Lane_HS.jpg

Some of my students are immigrants who’ve started families in the United States or brought their children here. Others might be here for a few years for work. If they have children, they are going to have to navigate the educational system, so here’s a primer for parents with some basic information.  (I’ll do this as a blog series with more to come.) (more…)

Words in the News: Woke

My advanced English students, many with high-level positions and graduate degrees, have lately been stumped by a one syllable word: woke.  It appears not only on social media, but often in news stories and opinion pieces. (more…)

12 Foreign Words and Phrases New Yorkers Love to Use

It’s no secret that languages borrow from other languages. The French, despite their reputation as linguistic puritans, are known for enjoying “le weekend.” Any English-speaking fan of telenovelas has probably  heard the word “look” being used to describe one’s personal physical appearance and style. 

The classic and much imitated Colombian telenovela, Yo Soy Betty La Fea centered on the transformation of Betty’s “look.”

English has always had its fair share of borrowed phrases. When Europeans first arrived in the Americas they stole native words as well as land.

Wabanaki (Native American) Canoe. The word “canoe” came from the Arawaken language. Can you canoe?

Americans have adopted many foreign words and expressions that were brought to our shores by people who came here from all over the world. New York City, which continues to draw immigrants, visitors, dreamers, and doers from every corner of the planet, has a particularly rich history of taking words of foreign origin and adding them to our unique regional lexicon.

Below is a list of 12 foreign words and phrases that one is likely to hear in New York.  I’ve excluded words used only to describe foods such as pizza, tacos, and so on. They’re too easy!  Most of these words have been brought to me by my English-language students who heard them at work, in social settings, or on television.

Click here to read the complete list. (more…)