verb (used with object)

verb (used without object)



    pinch pennies, to stint on or be frugal or economical with expenditures; economize: I'll have to pinch pennies if I'm going to get through school.
    with a pinch of salt. salt1(def 24).Also with a grain of salt.

Origin of pinch

1250–1300; Middle English pinchen < Anglo-French *pinchier (equivalent to Old French pincier, Spanish pinchar) < Vulgar Latin *pīnctiāre, variant of *pūnctiāre to prick (cf. pique1)
Related formspinch·a·ble, adjectiveun·pinched, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for pinch pennies



to press (something, esp flesh) tightly between two surfaces, esp between a finger and the thumbSee nip 1
to confine, squeeze, or painfully press (toes, fingers, etc) because of lack of spacethese shoes pinch
(tr) to cause stinging pain tothe cold pinched his face
(tr) to make thin or drawn-looking, as from grief, lack of food, etc
(usually foll by on) to provide (oneself or another person) with meagre allowances, amounts, etc
pinch pennies to live frugally because of meanness or to economize
(tr) nautical to sail (a sailing vessel) so close to the wind that her sails begin to luff and she loses way
(intr sometimes foll by out) (of a vein of ore) to narrow or peter out
(usually foll by off, out, or back) to remove the tips of (buds, shoots, etc) to correct or encourage growth
(tr) informal to steal or take without asking
(tr) informal to arrest


a squeeze or sustained nip
the quantity of a substance, such as salt, that can be taken between a thumb and finger
a very small quantity
a critical situation; predicament; emergencyif it comes to the pinch we'll have to manage
the pinch sharp, painful, or extreme stress, need, etcfeeling the pinch of poverty
slang a robbery
slang a police raid or arrest
at a pinch if absolutely necessary
with a pinch of salt or with a grain of salt without wholly believing; sceptically

Word Origin for pinch

C16: probably from Old Norman French pinchier (unattested); related to Old French pincier to pinch; compare Late Latin punctiāre to prick
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for pinch pennies



early 13c., from Old North French *pinchier "to pinch, squeeze, nip; steal" (Old French pincier, Modern French pincer), of uncertain origin, possibly from Vulgar Latin *punctiare "to pierce," which might be a blend of Latin punctum "point" + *piccare "to pierce." Meaning "to steal" in English is from 1650s. Sense of "to be stingy" is recorded from early 14c. Related: Pinched; pinching.



late 15c., "critical juncture" (as in baseball pinch hitter, attested from 1912), from pinch (v.). This figurative sense is attested earlier than the literal sense of "act of pinching" (1590s) or that of "small quantity" (as much as can be pinched between a thumb and finger), which is from 1580s. There is a use of the noun from mid-15c. apparently meaning "fold or pleat of fabric."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with pinch pennies

pinch pennies

Be thrifty or miserly, as in There's no need to pinch pennies now that you're working full-time. This term was first recorded in 1942.


In addition to the idioms beginning with pinch

  • pinch hitter
  • pinch pennies

also see:

  • feel the pinch
  • in a pinch
  • with a grain (pinch) of salt
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.