phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at


Posted by ESC on April 10, 2004

In Reply to: Thinking in this 'piecemeal ' way about your finances. posted by James Briggs on April 10, 2004

: : Hi there,
: : Does that mean "a part at a time?" and how did it first originate?
: : Thanks!

: It does mean 'piece by piece'. Origin? I don't know, but the expression goes back to the 13th C

Merriam-Webster online:
1 : one piece at a time : GRADUALLY
2 : in pieces or fragments : APART

I looked in a couple of word origin references. The "meal" in piecemeal originally meant "measure" and comes from a Germanic word, "maelaz." (Meal for "flour" has a different origin.) "The semantic progression from 'measure' (which died out for "meal" in the Middle English period, but survives in the compound 'piecemeal' etymologically 'measured piece by piece) to 'repast' was via 'measured or fixed time...'"

From "Dictionary of Word Origins: the Histories of More Than 8,000 English-Language Words" by John Ayto (Arcade Publishing, New York, 1990).