PAUCITY: a condition of scarcity

Paucity is one of those words that easily could be exaggerated by misunderstanding the true meaning.   If someone says that their refrigerator is absolutely empty and their cupboards are bare, it is inappropriate to say they have a paucity of food.  The truth is that they are food-less.  If there was a paucity of food they might have a box of crackers on the shelf, or a partial bottle of milk in the refrigerator.

Bryan Garner, in his classic resource book, Garner’s Modern American Usage, says:

“The word indicates a small quantity, not a complete lack of something, as this sentence erroneously suggests: It would have had the inevitable result of demonstrating the total paucity or lack [read lack or absence] of evidence from which any jury could conclude that the reasonable man would have acted as the appellant did.”

The suggestion is that there was no evidence, not a paucity. I suspect that it is a common error by writers who are attempting to describe the vacuum of evidence in a case which is being presented.

It is too easy for a writer to embrace a flawed term when grasping for a good expression.  I have found that I am more inclined that ever to run to to check out the word before committing myself to it.  It only takes a few seconds, and I can’t count the number of times when I have found that my choice was not a good one.  It has saved me from the embarrassment of needing to be corrected by a careful reader. (I also have taken to running Spell Check before hitting the publish button.)

But, to get back to paucity, I want to promote the word as being a really good term to be used.   A few potential uses:

  • The Republican Party has no paucity of potential candidates. It’s just a matter of the capability of winning by those presenting themselves.
  • The President laments the paucity of successes in diminishing the unemployment numbers in America.
  • The Red Sox have demonstrated that they have no paucity of strong bats in this 2011 season.
  • The paucity of good movies at the beginning of the summer was overcome by some late-summer blockbusters.

You get the point.  No need to beat a dead horse.  Believe me, when it comes to words capable of being included in a posting, I have no paucity of  resources.

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