parsimony
n. unusual or excessive frugality; extreme economy or stinginess.
n. adoption of the simplest assumption in the formulation of a theory or in the interpretation of data, especially in accordance with the rule of Ockham’s razor.

Parsimony comes to us in the 15th century from the Latin parcere, meaning to spare, and this meaning has largely stayed with the word, varying only in its connotations: it was not originally associated with “stinginess.” The adjective form, parsimonious wasn’t neologized until almost 150 years later.

Interestingly, the alternate sense of parsimony has no such connotations, being a sort of single-word iteration of Ockham’s Razor—that is, the tendency to accept the least complicated analysis of a problem (colloquially, “The simplest explanation is usually the correct one.”). I am unsure when this sense of the word first crept into the language.

§1731 · February 14, 2007 · Tags: , ·

1 Comment to “Wednesday’s Word: parsimony”

  1. Rusty says:

    “Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is almost always: someone screwed up.”

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