It's a good word, regardless of what it means. But I realized lately that it's yet another one of those words I've just floundered around with all these years, without really investigating. I think of picayune as having to do with minutiae, but how can that be right, when one of the most oft cited newspapers of our country is called the Times-Picayune, out of New Orleans?
Time to clear the matter up a little...
It's pretty easy, this one. "Picayune" does mean "of little or no consequence", "trivial", "petty". But this is because, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary (which has undergone a bit of a facelift, by the way, since I last looked), the word probably comes from the Louisiana French picaillon, a coin worth five cents, and goes back to an older small copper coin from France, the picaioun.
The newspaper angle comes from the fact that when The Picayune was established in 1837, its price was one picayune, or about six and a half cents at the going rate. Adjusting backward for inflation, this actually seems a bit steep to me.
I was interested to learn that The Picayune innovated such features as a society page and a women's advice column. But of course the really newsworthy story about the Times-Picayune was how they managed to cover Hurricane Katrina. For two days, they could not print the paper, but were able to get a PDF online.
How did they do this without a newsroom? Well, the Columbia Journalism Review deemed this story important enough to write it up.
And no, not picayune at all.
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