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Picayune

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  • Picayune is a word that is primarily used in North America, with an interesting origin. We will examine the definition of the word picayune, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

    Picayune means petty, insignificant, not worth much. The word picayune seems to have entered the English language in the very early nineteenth century, in the Louisiana Territory. The United States bought the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, and as may be expected, the area contained many French people and customs. The word picayune is a corruption of the French word picaillon, a French coin of the time that was worth approximately five cents. Interestingly, the New Orleans newspaper, the New Orleans Picayune was established in 1837, named not because it was a periodical full of petty, insignificant information but because the newspaper cost five cents. The paper merged with another, and is now known as the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Other newspapers and towns with the name Picayune are derived from the New Orleans paper. The use of the word picayune peaked in the 1940s, though it is still sometimes heard, especially in the South.

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    Examples

    She followed Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, both of whom had picayune problems regarding nannies. (The Washington Post)

    You wouldn’t want to be in Judy’s court, but if you’ve ever gotten sick of hearing somebody go on and on about picayune problems and wished you could just tell them to shut it, well, Judy can be a lot of fun to watch. (The Minneapolis Post)

    Witness last year’s “House of Meetings” by Martin Amis, which featured another Lev and confused the horrors of the Gulag with the comparably picayune problems of the bedroom. (The Washington Post)

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