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From Middle English nigard, nygard (miser), from nig (niggardly person), possibly of Scandinavian origin; compare Old Icelandic hnǫggr (miserly, stingy), Old Norse *hniggw, with descendants Swedish njugg (stingy), dialectal Swedish niggla (be stingy), dialectal Norwegian nigla.[1][2] Ultimately from Proto-Germanic *hnauwjaz, source of Old English hneaw (stingy), replaced by Middle English nig. Possibly cognate to niggle (miser).[3] Compare German Knicker (niggard), knickerig (niggardly). Unrelated to the word nigger, but see the usage notes.



niggard (comparative more niggard, superlative most niggard)

  1. Sparing; stinting; parsimonious.
  2. Miserly or stingy.
    • 1755, Tobias Smollett, chapter III, in The History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote, translated from the original Spanish of Cervantes, volume II:
      It was, however, the pleasure of his niggard and unhappy fortune, that in seeking a place proper for his accommodation, he and Dapple tumbled into a deep and very dark pit, among a number of old buildings.
    • 1852, William, 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.


niggard (plural niggards)

  1. A miser or stingy person; a skinflint.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:miser
  2. A false bottom in a grate, used for saving fuel.
    • 1833, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Godolphin
      It was evening: he ordered a fire and lights; and, leaning his face on his hand as he contemplated the fitful and dusky upbreakings of the flame through the bars of the niggard and contracted grate []
    • 1851, From a catalog of the Great Exhibition
      Cooking apparatus, adapted for an opening eight feet wide, by five feet high, and containing an open-fire roasting range, with sliding spit-racks and winding cheek or niggard;
    • 1834 May 21, Thomas Carlyle, Jane Welsh Carlyle, Lady Gertrude Hoffmann Bliss, Thomas Carlyle: Letters to His Wife, published 1953, page 100:
      Neither this nor the Brompton house have a kitchen-range (that is, Grate like the Miles's), but only a grate with moveable niggards etc.
    • 1979, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland[1], volume 109, Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, page 15:
      A niggard was a movable side to the kitchen grate which could be wound up with a handle so as to make the fire []


niggard (third-person singular simple present niggards, present participle niggarding, simple past and past participle niggarded)

  1. (intransitive) To hoard; to act stingily.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:amass

Usage notes[edit]

  • This word is unrelated to the racial slur nigger (a corruption of the Spanish word negro (black)), but some in the United States have taken offense at the word's use due to the phonetic similarity between the words. As such, the word has fallen out of general use, though some have attempted to reaffirm it as inoffensive.

Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]



  1. ^ nigard, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 2019: “5 June 2022”.
  2. ^ Brilioth, Börje (1913) A Grammar of the Dialect of Lorton (Cumberland), volume 1, London: Oxford University Press, pages 153–154
  3. ^ Erik Björkman, Scandinavian Loan-words in Middle English, page 34.