Meager, scanty, scant, skimpy, scrimpy, exiguous, spare, sparse are comparable when they mean so small (as in amount, number, or size) as to fall short of what is normal, necessary, or desirable.
Meager stresses thinness: as applied to persons or animals, it suggests emaciation but as applied to things in general, it implies the absence of elements, qualities, or numbers necessary to a thing’s richness, substance, or potency.
Scanty emphasizes insufficiency in amount, quantity, or extent.
Scant may differ from scanty in suggesting a falling or a cutting short (as in amount or quantity) of what is desired or desirable rather than in what is necessary or essential.
Skimpy and the less common scrimpy as applied to things may be quite interchangeable with meager but often they are more strongly colored by the related verbs, skimp and scrimp, and then usually suggest niggardliness or penury as the cause of the deficiency.
Exiguous stresses a smallness in size, amount, extent, or capacity that is more or less inherent in the thing under consideration and makes it compare unfavorably with other things of its kind.
Spare (see also LEAN SUPERFLUOUS ) implies merely a falling short of what is easily or fully sufficient; unlike scanty and meager, it seldom suggests resulting loss or hardship.
Sparse stresses a lack of normal or desirable thickness or density; the term need not suggest insufficiency or inadequacy in numbers or in quantity, but it always connotes a thin scattering of the units.