Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Entry: picayune (adj.)

In context: "It being well-nigh impossible to keep the present from infecting even a playful and childlike Historical Consciousness, Canadians often end up playing picayune but villainous roles in Eschatonic TRIGSITs."

DefinitionA worthless or contemptible person; a trivial or unimportant matter or thing.

and

Of little value; paltry, petty, trifling; unimportant, trivial; mean; contemptible.


Other: The word is even more interesting when you consider its etymology.


Picayune (n.) is also:  Originally, in southern United States, esp. Louisiana: a Spanish half-real. In later use: a 5-cent piece or other coin of little value. Now hist.


which makes its etymology a little clearer:


Etymology:  < French regional (southern, especially Savoy) picaillon, pécaillon, picayon (1643 as †picailloux in a Lyonnais source, denoting a small coin of foreign origin; compare French picaillons (plural), a slang term for ‘money, cash’ (1746 or earlier in this sense)) and its etymon Occitan picalhon, denoting a Savoyan-Piedmontese coin (see note), and in the extended sense ‘money’, of uncertain origin, probably < Occitan piquar to ring (bells), to knock, strike (1509; of imitative origin) + a suffix, the coins being so named because they would jingle in the pocket.

The early history of the Savoyan-Piedmontese coin is not fully clear. It appears that the coin was first minted in 1635 as a copper coin thinly covered with silver and was demonetized already in the following year, but continued to circulate unofficially and, due to its cheapness, was widely imitated outside Savoy. From the south-eastern part of Savoy the word was borrowed into French as a collective term for ‘money, cash’. See further Französisches etymol. Wörterbuch s.v. *pikkare


SNOOT score: 2
 
Page: 1025

Source: Oxford English Dictionary   


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