Definition of penury
1 : a cramping and oppressive lack of resources (such as money); especially : severe poverty
2 : extreme and often stingy frugality
penury was our Word of the Day on 05/24/2008. Hear the podcast!
Examples of penury in a Sentence
lived in a time when single women like herself faced a lifetime of genteel penury
Recent Examples of penury from the Web
In the span of a single generation, hundreds of millions of people were lifted from penury to unimagined riches.
As the Confederacy lurches toward defeat, the group’s numbers increase, drawing other deserters, runaway slaves, and farmers reduced to penury, and Newton turns the band into an effective fighting force.
Louisiana Elefante, an angelic-looking orphan living with her grandmother in penury, sets her wide eyes on the prize money — confident that the winnings will keep her out of the county home and the clutches of the mysterious Marsha Jean.
This whole life flowed in happy penury, a freewheeling party that seemed never to end.
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'penury'. Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.
Did You Know?
The exact meaning of "penury" (from Latin penuria, meaning "want") can vary a bit from context to context. It sometimes has had a broad sense of "lack" or "scarcity," as when one character remarks on another's "penury of conversation" in Jane Austen's Emma. It can also mean "frugality," as in Edith Wharton's description of an excessively thrifty hostess in The Age of Innocence: "Her relatives considered that the penury of her table discredited the Mingott name, which had always been associated with good living." The most common sense of "penury," however, is simply "poverty," as in Shakespeare's As You Like It: "Shall I keep your hogs, and eat husks with them? What prodigal portion have I spent that I should come to such penury?"
Origin and Etymology of penury
Middle English, from Latin penuria, paenuria want; perhaps akin to Latin paene almost
First Known Use: 14th century
Synonym Discussion of penury
PENURY Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of penury for English Language Learners
: the state of being very poor : extreme poverty
Seen and Heard
What made you want to look up penury? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).