- Insufficient to meet a demand or requirement; short in supply: Fresh vegetables were scarce during the drought.
- Hard to find; absent or rare: Steel pennies are scarce now except in coin shops.
Barely or hardly; scarcely.
Origin: Middle English scars
Origin: , from Old French scars
Origin: , from Vulgar Latin *excarpsus, narrow, cramped
Origin: , from past participle of *excarpere, to pluck out
Origin: , alteration of Latin excerpere, to pick out; see excerpt
Related Forms:Word History:
The words scarce
illustrate how two words with a common ancestor can diverge from one another in form while passing from one language to another over the centuries. Both words can be traced back to the Latin word excerpere
(past participle stem excerpt-
), meaning “to pick out,” “to pick out mentally,” and “to select a passage for quotation.” The path is clear and direct from excerpt-
to our noun excerpt
(first recorded before 1638) and verb (first recorded around 1536), a past participle usage already being recorded in the 15th century. A more tangled path leads to our word scarce.
It is assumed that side by side with Latin excerpere
existed the Vulgar Latin form *excarpere. *Excarpsus,
an adjective formed with the past participle of *excarpere
in Vulgar Latin, meant “narrow, cramped,” and from this Vulgar Latin form came the Old French word échars,
“insufficient, cramped,” and “stingy.” The Old French word, which existed in a variety of forms, including scars
and the chiefly Old North French form escarse,
was borrowed into Middle English as scarse,
being first recorded in a manuscript written around 1300.