What's the difference between "paltry" and "meager"? Any connotations?

  • For one thing, paltry is stronger than meager.
    – Kris
    May 6, 2012 at 8:07

2 Answers 2


I found at least one dictionary that listed meager as a definition of paltry, suggesting that the two words could be used interchangeably in some contexts, particularly if you are talking about an amount.

However, if you look up both these words on Wordnik, you see some subtle differences in their meaning.

Paltry suggests something is contemptible, unimportant, and insignificant; while meager suggests something is deficient or scant.

When applied to a salary, then, a paltry salary wouldn't necessarily be lower than a meager salary, but it might suggest that the wages were insultingly low.

Although Wordnik lists both words as "equivalents" (you see that at the bottom of the page), the synonym list varies rather significantly. Synonyms for paltry include: worthless, contemptible, despicable; synonyms for paltry include: barren, gaunt, and impoverished.

I strongly suggest looking at both pages on Wordnik, as those two web pages can provide much more information than my meager contribution.

  • 1
    WOW!!! Thanks for this link. I knew nothing about Wordnik. "those two web pages can provide much more information than my meager contribution" - So, had you said "my paltry contribution", would you have deprecated yourself then or insulted me? :)
    – brilliant
    May 6, 2012 at 10:07
  • 1
    @brilliant: It would have been self-deprecating, to be sure. I tend to insult myself first, then try my very hardest to leave it there. :^)
    – J.R.
    May 6, 2012 at 23:27
  • Etymology: Meagre is from Old French, meaning thin originally. Paltry's origins are less certain, but it is agreed that originally it meant ragged or torn.
  • Meaning: Apart from the shared meanings of less and poor quality, meagre can also mean lean or emaciated, keeping in line with its roots.
  • Usage: As Kris notes in his comment, paltry is generally stronger than meagre. When you say "meagre salary", you just mean it is very less. OTOH, "paltry salary" is stronger: it is somewhat of an equivalent to saying, "The salary is ridiculously low."

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