• 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 Cajun French, spoken in southern Louisiana where it started out referring to a small half (Spanish) real coin. When the newspaper called the New Orleans Picayune (now the Times-Picayune) started in 1837, it cost one picayune, half a "bit" or 1/16 of a dollar. The coin came to be known as the coin of least value as a result. It probably came from French picaillon "money", but carrying the sense of picalhon "small coin". This word probably came from ancestor of Occitan piquar "to ring, strike" in reference to bells, but also coins jingling in the pocket. Piquar comes from Vulgar (street) Latin piccare "to pierce, prick", which also gave us pique. Piccare could have been borrowed from some Germanic ancestor of English pick or from Latin picus "woodpecker". (It would be picayune of me to not thank David Stevens of the Alpha Agora for suggesting today's polysemantic Good Word.)
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