Query for database searchers/dictionary editors

Bruce Dykes bkd at GRAPHNET.COM
Fri Feb 25 09:49:48 UTC 2000

-----Original Message-----
From: Rudolph C Troike <rtroike at U.ARIZONA.EDU>
Date: Friday, February 25, 2000 1:12 AM
Subject: Query for database searchers/dictionary editors

>I was quite surprised in my American English class today to find that none
>of the 30 students had the slightest idea what <picayune> means. Since it
>is a Louisiana French borrowing, it occurred to me that my familiarity
>with it might be due to my Texas upbringing, although my wife (from
>California) knows it [however, she produced a pronunciation, "picayuny",
>which rang a distant bell for me, though it could be interference from
><pickaniny>, the first part of which is ultimately from the same
>etymological source].
>        I wondering whether the evidence suggests a regional restriction,
>which would explain why students in Arizona (including many from the north
>and northeast) don't know it, or whether the term is genuinely becoming
>obsolete (like <mill> "tenth of a cent", which inflation has long since
>driven out of existence, and hence out of knowledge -- I recall that they
>actually paid sales taxes with mills in Oklahoma in the 1930s).

I never heard of it until I read about the Bloom County Picayune in the
Sunday papers. Research led me to discover the New Orleans Times-Picayune,
which suggested that it was, in fact, a real word (I'm only going over my
thought processes at the time. I now know the difference between
descriptivism and prescriptivism.). At which point I went to the dictionary.

I'm 31, and I grew up in the east, from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland,
and some time in Georgia, even. I hadn't heard it until 1979/1980/1981, or
somewhere in there.


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