What is a Picayune?

pic•a•yune (pik-ah-yoon) adj. 1. Of little value or importance; paltry. 2. Petty; mean. n. 1. A Spanish-American half-real piece formerly used in parts of the southern United States. 2. A five-cent piece. 3. Something of very little value; a trifle.

Times, Dispatch, Courant, Post, Sun, Star, Tribune, Observer, Appeal, Courier and Journal, America's newspapers share a lineage of unusual names. Some speak of chronicling the moment while others endeavor to investigate deeper. Still others use a name that promise protection by exposing facts. While many are easy to decipher what they mean, occasionally I see one that I don't understand.

In the wake of hurricane Katrina, I've been getting local information and uniquely qualified opinion from a curiously named paper, the Times-Picayune. I'm familiar with a lot of words, but picayune isn't one of them. So I turned to dictionary.com, as I often do, for the answer. What I found only confused me more.

A picayune is something of very little value or a trifle. This is a peculiar name given that a newspaper normally wants to be perceived as having a high value by being useful, timely and accurate. I needed to do more research.

With a little clumsy navigation through the newspaper's website, I finally found the answer. A picayune was a 6.25 cent Spanish coin which is precisely what the first paper cost. Seeking to gather a wide readership, Francis A. Lumsden and George Wilkings Kendall priced their new paper below the market rate of 10 cents. Known as The Picayune from the start, the paper changed its name to the Times-Picayune when it merged with another paper.

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