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Episode Info: A few stolen minutes out of your day to talk words and communication, because Ben Franklin and Kurt Cobain both influenced our modern English language and spelling memes deserve to be debunked. Words. Language. Human communication. Everything begins there. Norrie Epstein once said, “The best writing advice I ever received: facts are eloquent.” Oh how much I love this statement. It’s true in conversations, in books, in journalism, and anywhere words might take you. Sometimes, these facts are world changing. Sometimes, these facts are word-changing—or, at least in how you perceive certain uses of language. Are you ready to dive in? I have two big questions for you today. Season 3, Episode 4: The Origin of “Silhouette” & How Do You Spell “Piecemeal” (“Peacemeal”? “Piecemail”?) Anyway? Approximate transcript: If you’re doing something “piecemeal,” how do you spell that? And how did a silhouette portrait—a black shadow of a profile rather than a standard painted portrait—gain its name? This is Episode 4 of Season 3 of the Words You Should Know podcast. There’s so much you should know, really. And here we go. If you have a full dandelion, can you make its wishes in piecemeal? I’m guessing not, but who knows how wishes work? If a “happy meal” once made you excited as a kid, would a “peace meal” make you excited as a grown up? “Happy” is good, but “peace” is a larger group undertaking. I know it’s not that simple, but I like the idea of a “peace meal,” even if this isn’t the actual spelling of the word. What are we actually talking about? To do something bit by bit. To do it in pieces. First things first, the beginning of this word is “piece” not “peace.” Got it? Good. But what about the rest of it? Piecemeal? Piecemail? Piece-what? I know “meal” doesn’t seem logical here—there’s nothing involving food to mention, no calories and nothing Instagram-worthy—but that is the correct spelling of this word: “P-I-E-C-E-M-E-A-L.” The truth of it is that “piecemeal” is simply a really old word, dating back to roughly 1300, and this “meal” ending that was once completely logical has transformed into something bemusing, something befuddling. But here’s what you should know. “Piecemeal” comes from the word “piece,” as we understand it today (isn’t it awesome when there’s a not tricky part?), combined with the suffix or word ending “-meal.” But, again, let’s think past food. This old “meal” was used around the concept of measurement. For example, a “footmeal”—or fotmælum in Old English—was not a time to sit and dine on feet, it was talking about the length of a foot. Moreover, it was more than a measurement. It was understood as “foot by foot,” or a little bit at a time. Footmeal. Thus, “piecemeal” could be understood not just as a small measurement but also “piece by piece,” which would hold the same meaning for us today. W...
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