I'm trying to guess if an English speaker says mean or tight when you are talking about a person who don't like to spend their own money.

Do you use different words depending on the friendship with that person?

I'm asking for the use in UK but answers about how to say it in US are appreciated too.

Thank you very much for your reply.


In US use (in my experience) both have negative connotations. The word "mean" is far more often used in the sense of "cruel" or "nasty", and so when it is used to mean "unwilling to spend money" it picks up some of the negative attitude from that more common use. That would not affect "tight" so much, but the related from "tightfisted" is more negative. "Tight with a dollar" can be quite negative, or not, depending on tone of voice and context.

As a comment points out "cheap" can also be used for this meaning. It is negative, but usually not as negative as "mean" or "tightfisted". Of course context and tone can make a significant difference in the meaning.

If, in US use, one wants to indicate that a person does not like to spend money, without being negative, perhaps even while being friendly, one might say that the person is "frugal" or "thrifty" or "not extravagant". The latter is an example of ironic understatement.

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    It's the same in BrE ("mean" is usually more about "cruel, thoughtless, inconsiderate" than "tight[-fisted]"). Scots are more likely to say near where the English use tight for the "unwilling to spend" sense. – FumbleFingers May 19 '19 at 15:18
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    The implications of character are important, for instance we would more often say Scrooge was mean more than tight while a prudent and penny-pinching yet lovelt – EnglishAdam May 19 '19 at 16:26
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    I thought "cheap" is more common in the US variation. Also, I think that's a mild term. – Cardinal May 19 '19 at 17:50
  • @Cardinal I didn't think of "cheap" but should have. I've added it to the answer. Thanks. – David Siegel May 19 '19 at 18:11

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