Feeling frugal? Got a tight grip on the purse strings? Tim Bowen explains how this word derives from another which is quite opposite in meaning.

The Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners defines frugal as 'spending very little money and only on things that are really necessary'. Frugal can also be used to describe a meal. A frugal meal would be simple, cheap and small in size. Given that frugal is not far removed in meaning from tight-fisted or mean, it is somewhat surprising to learn that it derives from a Latin word meaning fruitful, which appears to be almost the opposite in meaning. Just how fruitful came to mean careful with money is uncertain but it may be that at some stage being fruitful was associated with being profitable and in order to be profitable one had simultaneously to be economical.