Word: parsimony

Pronunciation: PAHR-sə-moh-nee

Part of Speech: noun


  1. extreme unwillingness to spend money or use resources
  2. the scientific principle that things are usually connected or behave in the simplest or most economical way

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Fun fact: today’s Word of the Week features another word I learned through its secondary meaning in science. While studying phylogenetics in grad school, I learned about different approaches to building and analyzing evolutionary trees, one of which involves inferring the fewest possible changes in a species’ history. It’s easy to see why this scientific criterion is so popular; when it comes to tracing evolution, you can hardly get any simpler than “parsimony”!

“Parsimony” is an extreme unwillingness to use resources or spend money. In science, it refers to the principle that things are connected or behave in the simplest way. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Latin noun parsimonia, meaning “frugality”. This noun stems from the verb parcere, which means “to spare”.

When working this word into your fiction, note that its primary definition is synonymous with “cheapness” and “penny-pinching”, while its second definition is often used interchangeably with “Occam’s razor“, a similar principle which states that “in explaining a thing, no more assumptions should be made than are necessary”. If you’re looking for an adjective to describe people guilty of “parsimony”, you can also use “parsimonious” alongside such words as “miserly” and “selfish”. If your characters are extremely stingy (or happen to be evolutionary biologists), “parsimony” may be an excellent word to add to your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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