Frequent commenter Paul sent me a link to Sam Leith’s “In defence of the smiley” (“It is time to give the emoticon the praise it deserves”) and quoted the following paragraph:

Why shouldn’t we speak in praise of emoticons? They have some unique virtues. For a start, they introduce a pictorial element into the written language: something western languages have not had since the days of illuminated manuscripts. That is pleasing. Users of kanji or, ancestrally, hieroglyphics are spoilt in this regard; we have been scanted.

Paul finds the use of “scanted” very peculiar. It seems OK to me (definition 4 in Merriam-Webster is “to provide with a meager or inadequate portion or supply : stint”), but I thought I’d check with the Varied Reader; maybe it’s a US/UK thing?


  1. Stateside, “a scant cup of sugar” and the like can be found in recipes, though generally not in those composed in orthodox recipe style. “Err on the side of stinginess” is what’s meant, don’t heap it on. Scant as a verb does seem like primarily a UK thing.

  2. “We have been stinted”: would that have seemed less peculiar ?

  3. It does surprise me, but in a good way.

  4. It’s not a word I would use, but it’s in the American Heritage Dictionary. I like it though. Maybe I’ll try to work it into a conversation.

  5. I know the word from Hopkins:
    As a dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage,
    Man’s mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells

  6. I think ‘we have been scanted’ is unusual, if not peculiar, in Britain too.

  7. I’ve met that use of “scant” but only once or twice.
    “Stint” everyone knows as a verb, as in “Don’t stint”. As a noun it means something like an allowance – say, each commoner has a stint of two cows on the common pasture. That is therefore a “stinted commons”. (The unstinted commons famously fell into very poor condition, a known consequence many centuries older than Economists like to admit.)
    “Stint” can also refer to allocated duties – academics over here talk about their teaching stint for this academic year or this term.

  8. I’ve met that use of “scant” but only once or twice.
    Yeah, me too, but somehow it didn’t seem odd to me, just uncommon.

  9. Marc Leavitt says

    Scant has always been a part of my active vocabulary, although not as an everyday word.I’ve used it in a variety of ways: “scant respect,” “A scant chance,” “he scanted the importance of…”

  10. Adjective, yes. Verb, no. I’ve never known scant as a verb.

  11. Me, too, Marja. And the verb “stint” only really survives for me in phrases like “unstinting effort”.

  12. marie-lucie says

    I agree with Marja and Ø about “scant”.
    “Stint” I know as a verb (though of limited use), with a meaning similar to “skimp”, and also as a noun, a “stint” being something like a “tour of duty,” with the connotation of a “period of drudgery”. I would never have used “a teaching stint” to refer to my “teaching load” in a given semester, but I remember reading biographical info such as “After a stint as a teacher/ a journalist/ etc …” (X went on to do something else more suited to his/her tastes and abilities).

  13. “Scantily clad” is popular in Britain.

  14. Actually, we like “scantily clad” in the US, also.

  15. BrE speaker here; I’ve never heard “scant” used as a verb in my life. I can understand the meaning, but I’d go as far to say it’s ungrammatical to me.

  16. Michæl: BrE speaker here; I’ve never heard “scant” used as a verb in my life. I can understand the meaning, but I’d go as far to say it’s ungrammatical to me.
    From the OED:

    scant, v. Now mainly arch.
    Also 6–7 skant.
    [f. scant a.]
    I.I intr.
    †1.I.1 a.I.1.a To become scant or scarce. Obs.
       1436 Pol. Poems (Rolls) II. 189 Allas! fortune begynneth so to stant [read scant?], Or ellis grace, that dede is governaunce.    1470 Henry Wallace xi. 35 In Wallace ost so scantyt the wictaill, Thai mycht nocht bid [na] langar till assaill.    1586 Bright Melanch. x. 45 Spirit‥is either plentifull, or scanteth, as it hath want, or‥nourishment.    1611 Speed Hist. Gt. Brit. ix. xxiii. 94 Where‥they continued till their maintenance began to scant.    1624 ‘R. Jones’ (T. Lushington) Resurr. Serm. (1659) 77 Of these in their order, as the time hath scanted.
    †b.I.1.b To be diminished. Const. of. Obs.
       1607 Relat. Disc. River in Capt. Smith’s Wks. (Arb.) Introd. 42 The Ryver skantes of his breadth .2. mile before we come to the Ilet mentyoned.
    2.I.2 Naut. Of the wind: To become unfavourable, to draw too much ahead. Const. upon, with. (Cf. scant a. 7.) ? Obs.
       c 1553 J. Locke in Hakluyt’s Voy. (1599) II. i. 104 About the third watch the winde scanted, so that we bare with the shore.    1628 Digby Voy. Medit. (1868) 15 The wind scanted much vpon vs, so that wee had much adoe to double the point.    1769 [see scanting vbl. n.].    1823 W. Scoresby Jrnl. Whale Fish. 392 The wind declined and scanted during the night, so that we could not fetch our port.
    II.II trans.
    3. a.II.3.a To furnish (a person, etc.) with an inadequate supply; to stint or limit in respect of provision; to put or keep on short allowance. In pass., to be restricted in the matter of supply, to be straitened (for). ? Obs. (cf. 3 b).
       1606 Shakes. Tr. & Cr. iv. iv. 49 He‥scants vs with a single famisht kisse.    1607 Hieron Wks. I. 230 They are neither scanted for victuals, nor straitened for lodging.    1613 F. Robartes Revenue Gosp. 135 These wil be glad to scant the Minister, that they may haue the more for their owne luxurie.    1626 Bacon New Atl. 17 [He] bad us not to scant our selves; For he would procure such time as wee desired.    1692 R. L’Estrange Josephus, Antiq. xiii. xvi. (1733) 347 The Camp was for some short Time scanted for Water.    1719 D’Urfey Pills I. 243 The Germans bemoaned their Condition, Squadrons were scanted, Officers wanted.
    b.II.3.b with of: To put or keep on short allowance of; to keep (one) short of; to abridge or deprive of. In pass., to be in want of, have only a scant supply of, be badly off for. Now rare.
       1565 Jewel Repl. Harding xvi. vi. 552 M. Harding is much scanted of good Authorities, when he is thus driuen by Tales, & Fables, to countreuaile the Tradition of the Apostles.    1597 Sir R. Cecil in Ellis Orig. Lett. Ser. i. III. 42 A man, whose fortune scants him of meanes to do you service.    1616 R. Cocks Diary (Hakl. Soc.) I. 134 They skanted him of victuells.    1670 Lond. Gaz. No. 517/3 The other Yacht happening to be scanted of Water near Flaerding.    1861 Trench Ep. 7 Churches Asia 125 This promise‥is misunderstood, or at any rate is scanted of its full meaning, unless [etc.].    1877 Patmore Unknown Eros (1890) 115 She scants me of my right.    1888 Lowell in Even. Post 17 Apr., I‥shall not allow myself to be circumscribed and scanted of elbow room.
    c.II.3.c To limit or restrict in (a supply, endowment, etc.). ? Obs.
       1600 Holland Livy xxi. xvii. 402 In the number of ships especially was Cornelius skanted.    1611 W. Sclater Key (1629) 129 Howsoeuer the Lord hath scanted thee in the things of this life.    1723 Williams in Phil. Trans. XXXII. 266 Had I not been scanted in Time.    1788 C. Reeve Exiles I. 190, I was so scanted in my allowance, that I dared not make acquaintance where I had not the power to make suitable returns.    1836 Lane Mod. Egypt. II. xii. 228 Miserable, or unfortunate, or scanted in my sustenance.
    †d.II.3.d with subject a thing. Obs. rare.
       1628 Gaule Pract. Theories (1629) 21 Time would long fayle me, ere the Truth would here scant mee.    Ibid. 61 What weake notions straighten our harts? What imperfect sounds and syllables scant our mouths? While we labour to apprehend his Nature, Person, and Acts.
    4. a.II.4.a To make scant or small; to reduce in size, cut down; to diminish the amount of. ? Obsolescent.
       c 1590 E. Wright in Hakluyt’s Voy. (1599) II. ii. 163 Hereupon also our allowance of drinke, which was scant ynough before, was yet more scanted, because of the scarcitie thereof in the shippe.    1606 Shakes. Ant. & Cl. iv. ii. 21 Scant not my Cups.    1661 Glanvill Van. Dogm. 120 The wrong end of the Perspective, which scants their dimensions.    1668 H. More Div. Dial. ii. I. 221 The Generations of men being not considerably scanted for all these four greedy devourers of them.    1870 Lowell Study Wind. 92 As the clearing away of the woods scants the streams.    1880 Sat. Rev. No. 1291. 118 He has not hesitated to expand rather than scant the meaning of the original.    1886 Field 13 Feb. 204/2 Having had to scant the printer’s bill to the lowest penny.
    †b.II.4.b absol. Cf. scanting ppl. a. Obs.
       1577 Tusser Husb. (1878) 184 Ill huswiferie wanteth with spending too fast. Good huswiferie scanteth the lenger to last.    1611 Bible 2 Kings iv. 5 Borrow not a few. Marg. Or, scant not.
    5.II.5 To stint the supply of; to refrain from giving, to withhold; to be niggardly of. Now rare. †to scant out: to dole out sparingly.
       1573–80 Tusser Husb. (1878) 10 This tree‥whose fruite to none is scanted, in house or yet in feeld.    1590 Shakes. Com. Err. ii. ii. 81 What he hath scanted them in haire, hee hath giuen them in wit.    1599 ― Hen. V, ii. iv. 47 Doth like a Miser spoyle his Coat, with scanting A little Cloth.    c 1603 Heywood & Rowley Fortune by Land & Sea i. ii. (1655) 8 What age doth scant me In sprightly vigour, Ile make good in wealth.    1605 Shakes. Lear i. i. 281 You haue obedience scanted.    1630 Davenant Just Italian v. i. H 3, Th’obedience which I scanted to his life, Vnto his memory I’le strictly pay.    a 1654 Selden Table-T. (Arb.) 48 When Constantine became Christian, he so fell in love with the Clergy, that he let them be Judges of all things, but that continued not above three or four Years,‥and then‥all Jurisdiction belonged to him, and he scanted them out as much as he pleased.    1768 H. Walpole Myst. Mother v. i. (1791) 74 Oft as they scant obedience to the church.    1846 Browning Lett. (1899) I. 392, I cannot undervalue my own treasure and so scant the only tribute of mere gratitude which is in my power to pay.
    †6.II.6 gen. To confine within narrow bounds, deprive of free scope; to limit, restrict, hedge in.
       1596 Shakes. Merch. V. ii. i. 17 If my Father had not scanted me And hedg’d me by his wit to yeelde my selfe [etc.].    1621 Bp. R. Montagu Diatribæ 174 If Christ in Melchisedec, shall be so scanted, as to be tyed vnto onely Spoyles.    a 1628 Preston Effect. Faith v. (1637) 248 Wee scant God according to our measure; we square Gods mercy according to our owne thoughts.    a 1631 Donne Serm. xlv. (1640) 455 Though there be no‥imminent danger‥of inhibiting or scanting the liberty of the Gospel.
    7.II.7 To treat slightingly or inadequately; to neglect, do less than justice to. Now chiefly U.S.
       1604 Shakes. Oth. i. iii. 268 And Heauen defend your good soules, that you thinke I will your serious and great businesse scant When she is with me.    1644 J. Fary Gods Severity (1645) 27 How are our devotions scanted and slubbered over?    1851 Neale Mediæval Hymns 101 Letter held by, spirit scanted, Saw the Synagogue supplanted.    1969 New Yorker 6 Sept. 111/1 Several thousand‥men were on duty in the streets that day, while, presumably, Securitate was not scanting its duties elsewhere.    1977 N.Y. Rev. Books 14 Apr. 5 (Advt.), No thinker or movement is dismissed as too radical, no issue is scanted as too controversial.
    †8.II.8 Naut. In pass., of a ship: To be impeded by the ‘scanting’ of the wind. Cf. sense 2. Obs.
       1555 (16 Oct.) Admiralty Court Exam. x, The Pellican being a myle‥behind thother shipps was scanted with the wind.
    Hence ˈscanting vbl. n.
       1625 Purchas Pilgrims ii. 1696 They sayled for certaine dayes with aforewind till it came upon the skanting.    1626 B. Jonson Staple of N. ii. i, Your macerating of your body thus with cares and scantings of your dyet, and rest.    1672 Dryden Conq. Granada i. Heroic Plays a 3 b, And, therefore, in the scanting of his Images, and design, he comply’d not enough with the greatness and Majesty of an Heroick Poem.    1769 Falconer Dict. Marine (1780), Scanting, the variation of the wind by which it becomes unfavourable to a ship’s course, after having been fair or large. It is distinguished from a foul wind, as in the former a ship is still enabled to sail on her course, although her progress is considerably retarded.

    Nobody expects the OED!

  17. J.W. Brewer says

    On the original claim, is the fellow saying he doesn’t see the head of an ox whenever he looks at a capital A? (Not that the alleged “pictogram” kanji for ox/cow/bovine-in-general (=ushi) looks anything more like the animal in question – some sort of demythologization may be needed here; send up the bat-signal for Victor Mair.)

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    FWIW, maybe “scanted” is equally archaic on both sides of the Atlantic, but “spoilt” isn’t (afaik) even an acceptable minority variant for “spoiled” in AmEng. Google n-gram shows “spoiled” over 10 times as common in the “American English” corpus by the late 1990’s and the first page of “spoilt” hits mostly looked like they’d been miscoded and weren’t really American (a back issue of the “Kenya Gazette”), or were e.g. the title of a book by an American academic that sounds like it’s probably a quote from or allusion to an earlier text with a non-Am author.

  19. Surely A is an upside-down head of an ox.
    Why is there ‘spoilt’ in UnAmerican but not for example ‘boilt’ or ‘coilt’?

  20. SFR’s long etymological excerpts pasted directly were great to read too
    to speculate that perhaps scant is close sounding to our shaldan (bare), nutsgen to nude etc.

  21. Am I the only one left for whom “scant” is an entirely unremarkable verb? I’ve heard it and I’ve used it for my whole adult life, at least, mostly at table when food is being served out. It means, give less than the recipient is due. “Wait, Ellen, I think you scanted Mattie on the green beans.”

  22. Power restored to my home, though I don’t expect heat or hot water until someone comes to reset the oil burner that provides them, probably on Monday.
    AJP: Spoilt is irregular, and there’s no use asking why specific irregularities do and do not exist: as well ask why, if the plural of mouse is mice, the plural of house is not hice.
    “Fiddle, we know, is diddle: and diddle, we take it, is dee.” —Swinburne

  23. John Burgess says

    ‘Scant’ as a verb is unremarkable to me, too. I’m familiar with the OED meanings two-through-five and sometimes use three-through-five. And while I’m a native speaker of American English, I’ve had great exposure to various British (and other) forms.

  24. Thanks, John.
    If you ask me, shalden is pretty close to German selten, Norwegian sjelden and English seldom = rare(ly).

  25. Just the word “scanted” is enough to bring up the memory of probably the only time I’ve seen it used as a verb, in A Wizard of Earthsea:

    After that they came to work together often, Ged interweaving his spellcrafts with Pechvarry’s handwork on the boats he built or repaired, and in return learning from Pechvarry how a boat was built, and also how a boat was handled without aid of magic: for this skill of plain sailing had been somewhat scanted on Roke.

    The use of what’s usually an adjective as a verb grabs onto the memory because it takes that little bit of extra subconscious effort to parse. It’s efficient, like poetry; more ordinary language would say the same thing in more words, “this skill had been scantily taught” or “this skill had been given scant attention”.

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