Query for database searchers/dictionary editors

Victoria Neufeldt vneufeldt at M-W.COM
Fri Feb 25 14:01:56 UTC 2000

It seems to me that I've known this word "all my life" (meaning that I don't
remember learning it) and I grew up in the Canadian Prairies, pretty far
from the U.S. South!  I know it as an adj, meaning small, trifling, etc.,
and do not think of it as an exotic term.  The record shows that it's an
Americanism, first used in English in Louisiana with ref to a coin (the
earliest quotation found so far is from 1804; see the OED or Mathews' Dict
of Americanisms), taken from French 'picaillon', name of an old copper coin,
which was adapted from Provencal 'picaioun', also a small coin.  The word is
entered in Merriam's Intermediate Dict, intended for middle school or junior
high, which implies that it is or was considered a pretty standard
vocabulary item.


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> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
> Of Bruce Dykes
> Sent: Friday, February 25, 2000 4:50 AM
> Subject: Re: Query for database searchers/dictionary editors
> -----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.
> bkd

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