Posted by Woodchuck on December 10, 2002
In Reply to: Peppercorn sum posted by James Briggs on December 10, 2002
: : This phrase I think means a small or insignificant amount of money in respect to the item being referenced. Any idea on the etymology?
: Literally what it says. Back in the old days pepper was very expensive. Small sums could be paid in peppercorns. As these became progressively cheaper, then so did the value paid in this currency until, today, it means that only a token sum is paid. It's often used in the form 'peppercorn rent'.
From Brewer's Phrase and Fable:
"A nominal rent. A pepper-berry is of no appreciable value, and given as rent is a simple acknowledgment that the tenement virtually belongs to the person to whom the peppercorn is given."