Printable Version
Pronunciation: pees-meel Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adverb, Adjective

Meaning: Slowly and piece by piece, bit by bit, one piece at a time; inchmeal.

Notes: Given the fact that fishmeal and bonemeal are nouns, it is odd, to say the least, that today's Good Word is an adjective and an adverb. The reason is related to the fact that English has two words, meal, spelled and pronounced identically. Piecemeal is related to the word meaning "time of eating or what is eaten during that time". But, as the Word History will show, it originally meant "a measure".

In Play: Things may grow piecemeal: "The Roman Empire grew piecemeal, country by country, over the course of several hundred years." Things may also be reduced piecemeal: "Gloria noticed that someone with very small fingers was removing the cake from the counter piecemeal."

Word History: English piece was borrowed from French, which inherited it from Late Latin petia "piece of land". We don't know how Latin happened upon this word, for it doesn't occur in other Indo-European languages. Latin may have borrowed it from a Celtic language, perhaps from an ancestor of Breton pezh "piece, share" or Welsh peth "thing, affair". Meal, on the other hand, descended from Old English mael "measure, time of day". The latter sense narrowed to refer to the times of day for eating and thence to that which is eaten. But the meaning of "measure" remained in compound words like piecemeal and inchmeal. This meal, not the one referring to ground grain, is related to many words referring to measure, including measure, meter, and immense, to mention but a few.

Dr. Goodword,

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