Intermediate+ Word of the Day: pinch

pinch (verb, noun) /pɪntʃ/ LISTEN

A man pinching his nose

To pinch means ‘to squeeze something between your fingers’ and also ‘to squeeze really tightly,’ to the point where it can hurt.’ Pinch also means ‘to affect with great discomfort or distress.’ Informally, pinch means ‘to steal’ and, in UK English, ‘to arrest.’ As a noun, a pinch is a squeeze, the act of pinching, and also a small amount of something. It is also a situation of stress and emergency. Informally, a pinch is a theft and, in UK English, an arrest.

Example sentences

  • Kevin pinched his belly fat, wondering if he'd lost any yet.
  • Emily's new shoes are pinching her feet.
  • Many families have been pinched by the current state of the economy.
  • Some people never buy printer paper; they just pinch it from work.
  • The police pinched the robber as he was leaving the bank.
  • Add just a pinch of paprika.

Words often used with pinch

take something with a pinch of salt: consider something with a certain amount of cynicism. Example: “Larry told you he used to be CEO of a major corporation? Well, he’s always exaggerating. I’d take that with a pinch of salt, if I were you!”

in a pinch (US), at a pinch (UK): if really necessary, in an emergency. Example: “I’m not sure if we have enough food for everyone, but in a pinch we can always run out to the grocery store.”

pinch pennies: cut back your expenses as much as possible. Example: “I wish I earned more money; sometimes it feels like I’m always pinching pennies.”

feel the pinch (UK): be in financial difficulties. Example: “Since Caroline lost her job, her family has really been feeling the pinch.”

In pop culture

Watch this scene from the movie GoodFellas, in which Henry, the main character, gets pinched by the cops:

Did you know?

You might sometimes hear English speakers use the expression “I had to pinch myself” or something similar. It means the person couldn’t quite believe what was happening and thought they might be dreaming. If you pinch yourself and you don’t wake up, you must already be awake. Most people don’t really pinch themselves though!

Other forms

pinchable (adjective)


Pinch, meaning ‘to squeeze tightly or between two fingers,’ dates back to the early 13th century, as the Middle English verb pinchen. It came into English from the Anglo French and Old North French pinchier (‘to pinch or squeeze,’ or ‘to steal or nip’). Its origin is uncertain, but many linguists think that it could be traced back to the Vulgar Latin pinctiāre (to prick), a variant of punctiāre (to pierce), which was a combination of the Latin words punctum (point) and piccāre (to pierce). Pinch is related to the French pincier, the Italian pizzicare and the Spanish pinchar, all meaning ‘to pinch.’ The figurative sense, ‘to affect with discomfort or distress,’ has been used since the verb first came into English. Though the sense ‘to steal’ already existed in the French source, the sense did not appear in English until the mid-17th century. The noun dates back to the late 15th century, and comes from the verb. The first recorded instances used it in the figurative sense of ‘a critical juncture,’ while the meaning ‘a squeeze’ was first used in the early 16th century. The senses ‘the act of pinching’ and ‘a small quantity’ both appeared in the late 16th century. The sense ‘a theft’ is from the mid-17th century.

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