In Reply to: Cast a scant eye posted by Don Brown on November 14, 2008 at 10:13:
: 'Cast a scant eye' or 'cast scant praise'. Any ideas on origin, or even legitimacy?
"Scant" is a Middle English word meaning "barely sufficient, meagre, stinted in measure". You can "do scant justice" to something, and you can certainly give it "scant praise" (though I wouldn't normally talk of *casting* praise).
I have never heard of "a scant eye". I suppose it could be used figratively to mean something like "a brief glance" or "occasional supervision". I can only find 17 Google hits for the phrase (and only 4 for "casting a scant eye"), in which it appears to be used to mean several radically different things:
- "Kids whose parents keep even a scant eye on them": evidently this writer meant "occasional supervision".
- "You sleep but a scant eye as you surf, call and email": this writer presumably was trying to convey "an inadequate period of shut-eye".
- "Many people view frozen fish with a scant eye": this writer has certainly confused "scant" with "askance", an unrelated word meaning "askew, obliquely". To "eye something askance" is to look sideways at it [with suspicion or disapproval].
So for my money "scant praise" is a perfectly good phrase, though I personally wouldn't "cast" it anywhere; but "a scant eye" is just wrong. And if the tiny group of people who use it don't even seem to agree on what it means, it should definitely be avoided. (VSD)