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From Middle English scarce, skarce, scarse, scars, from Old Northern French scars, escars ("sparing, niggard, parsimonious, miserly, poor"; > French échars, Medieval Latin scarsus (diminished, reduced)), of uncertain origin. One theory is that it derives originally from a Late Latin *scarpsus, *excarpsus, a participle form of *excarpere (take out), from Latin ex- + carpere; yet the sense evolution is difficult to trace. Compare also Middle Dutch schaers (sparing, niggard), Middle Dutch schaers (a pair of shears, plowshare), scheeren (to shear).



scarce (comparative scarcer, superlative scarcest)

  1. Uncommon, rare; difficult to find; insufficient to meet a demand.
    • John Locke
      You tell him silver is scarcer now in England, and therefore risen one fifth in value.
    • 1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, chapter 3, in Mr. Pratt's Patients:
      My hopes wa'n't disappointed. I never saw clams thicker than they was along them inshore flats. I filled my dreener in no time, and then it come to me that 'twouldn't be a bad idee to get a lot more, take 'em with me to Wellmouth, and peddle 'em out. Clams was fairly scarce over that side of the bay and ought to fetch a fair price.
  2. Scantily supplied (with); deficient (in); used with of.

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scarce (not comparable)

  1. (now literary, archaic) Scarcely, only just.
    • Milton
      With a scarce well-lighted flame.
    • 1854, Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven:
      And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door, That I scarce was sure that I heard you [...].
    • 1898, J. Meade Falkner, Moonfleet Chapter 4:
      Yet had I scarce set foot in the passage when I stopped, remembering how once already this same evening I had played the coward, and run home scared with my own fears.
    • 1931, William Faulkner, Sanctuary, Vintage 1993, p. 122:
      Upon the barred and slitted wall the splotched shadow of the heaven tree shuddered and pulsed monstrously in scarce any wind.
    • 1969, John Cleese, Monty Python's Flying Circus:
      Well, it's scarce the replacement then, is it?