• picayune •
pik-ê-yun • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun
Meaning: 1. (Adjective) Paltry, trivial, trifling. 2. (Adjective) Niggling, petty, picky, choosy, fastidious, fussy. 3. (Noun) A nickel, a five-cent piece. 4. (Noun) Something of little value, not worth a picayune.
Notes: The only relative picayune has is picayunish "tending to be picayune". We must add this suffix if we want to use today's word as an adverb, picayunishly; it just sounds better. The meaning of picky may have been influenced by today's Good Word. Picky refers to someone who is fastidious, fussy, careful of the most trivial details.
In Play: Here is the sense in which today's word is most often used: "Charlotte Russe is so picayune about her table settings, every piece of silverware must be perfectly aligned." However, the nominal sense remains with us: "Hank Epanki doesn't give a picayune for formalities."
Word History: Today's Good Word came to English from southern French slang picaillon "money" but carrying the sense of picalhon "small coin". This word probably was derived from dialectal piquar "to ring, strike" in reference to coins jingling in the pocket. It came to US English via Louisiana, where it first referred to any small coin of the least value. Piquar comes from Vulgar (street) Latin piccare "to pierce, prick", which also gave us pique. (It wouldn't be picayune of me to thank David Stevens of the Alpha Agora for suggesting today's Good Word.)
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