Saturday, June 10, 2006

cheap and tight

So, Friend 1 , Friend 2 and I were having a (BrE) natter tonight, when the fact of Mutual Acquaintance's stinginess came into the conversation. I exclaimed, "MA is so cheap!" and F1 said "It's so funny whenever you say someone's cheap when you mean tight. If you say someone's cheap here, it means something different."

Well, in the US it can mean that too--it's ambiguous. But, given the context most Americans would naturally have interpreted my comment as meaning that MA is careful with her money (to put a positive spin on it), rather than that she has loose morals. I know that in England I'm 'supposed' to say that such people are tight, but to me, that word has unappealing connotations when applied to a woman. This is not helped by my knowledge of British saying about stingy people, which is often applied to MA: She's tight as a gnat's chuff.

From now on, I think I'll have to resort to saying "MA is careful with her money for reasons that I don't entirely approve of."

9 comments:

Alexandra said...

Yes, but if she's "tight" it could also mean she's slightly sloshed, almost smashed, or just plain drunk.

lynneguist said...

That works in the UK too--though certainly wouldn't be the first interpretation. In fact, I think of it as something my parents' generation would say...

badgergirl said...

or, on the Isle of Wight when I was growing up, saying sbdy was tight meant that they were frigid.

James said...

Where I grew up in California, we would say a teacher was tight if she was strict. When my family moved to New Jersey, I learned that to the kids there it had the unappealing connotations you allude to. I had to stop using that one.

Hodge said...

I would like to toss out a couple more AmE meanings for cheap and tight. "Cheap" can mean something like "unfair and uncreative", especially in sports and games, as in, "That was a really cheap move." "Tight" can be applied to something quite the opposite, a well thought-out/executed plan or design or song. "Have you seen the new BMW. It looks tight!"

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Well, there's always "stingy."

marek said...

I don't think I have led a very sheltered life, but I have never come across the phrase "tight as a gnat's chuff". It can be googled, so it clearly exists, but my guess would be that it is highly localised to time and/or place. I certainly couldn't imagine using it with any expectation of comprehension.

In my dialect of BrE, I do think the primary meaning of 'tight' used in isolation would be to do with drink rather than money. If the latter were intended, I would expect to hear a phrase such as 'tight fisted' - though in conversation, context can sometimes avoid the risk of ambiguity.

Anonymous said...

My limited understanding of BrE is that "mean" should be used in a situation like this. Is this correct?

lynneguist said...

'Mean' means 'ungenerous', really. So it would work in some but certainly not all situations where one might use 'cheap'.