This word belongs to that special class of words like monosyllabic that absolutely do not describe themselves. It may look like it’s a collection of cups (u o u n) spilling or running over (s s s) before your very eyes (e e), but if they have, what’s left in them is… exiguous. Which is to say, scanty. Meagre. Minimal. Crossed out, x.

Exiguousness does have a slightly briefer synonym, exiguity, but somehow that’s not quite as much fun, is it? They both come from exiguous, as I have implied. And exiguous is a word I am rather fond of. It’s fun to describe small things in large ways, like “a whole lot of not much.” There’s nothing wrong with being playful! There’s also nothing wrong with being expressive, and at least for me, exiguous has a sense of the exertion required in squeezing the last few drops out of a sponge.

Where did exiguous come from? Latin exigere, which also gave us exigent and exact. It meant ‘weigh strictly’ or ‘measure against a standard’. Now, of course, you can also weigh abundant things strictly, but you won’t get a baker’s dozen or a butcher’s pound (a butcher’s pound, by the way, is what a butcher will typically give you if you ask for a pound: a bit more than a pound – but the difference from a baker’s dozen is that they charge you for the extra). And to those of us who are used to getting more than we asked for, getting just exactly what we asked for can seem rather… skimpy.

But words are free, and even when they’re not, a long word costs no more than a short one. So luxuriate in the inexiguousness of this one. Nuff said.

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