The venerable New Orleans Times-Picayune, long the iconic daily newspaper of the Crescent City, has curtailed publication to only three days a week. This is a sad state of affairs for a proud paper, with several Pulitzer Prizes, whose staff at various times included O. Henry, William Faulkner, cartoonist Walt Handelsman, and Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, who, as Dorothy Dix, dispensed advice to several generations of love-troubled readers.
The Picayune’s tragic decline calls to mind
a perennial question: why would anyone name a newspaper the Picayune—a word that means “petty,
paltry, contemptible, and insignificant”?
If you have read my
book Porcupine, Picayune, & Post,
you know the answer to this question, but for other less fortunate and
benighted customers of this blog, I will lay out the background once more. A picayune was initially a Spanish coin
in Louisiana and Florida, worth a little more than 6 cents. The word comes from the French picaillon, adopted from the Provençal picaioun, a diminutive of the Portuguese
picalho, which means “money.” After the United States acquired
Louisiana in 1803, the name picayune
persisted and was applied to the five-cent piece (also known as a “fippeny
When Francis Lumsden
and George W. Kendall, two ambitious Easterners, arrived in New Orleans in 1837
and decided to start a newspaper, they tried to outdo the city’s other
journals, which all cost a dime or more, by charging only five cents. As a marketing ploy, they named the
newspaper for what it cost—a picayune. In 1914 the Picayune merged with the Times-Democrat
and became the Times-Picayune.
No coin is small
enough to charge for the work of the Bard of Buffalo Bayou. If there were
something worth, let us say, 1/1,000th of a picayune, that would
still be too much. Just see for yourself:
down yonder in New Orleans,
land of those Creole cuisines,
dirty rice, red kidney beans,
and peppered greens,
soup and trout terrines,
and smoked sardines,
that’s fit for kings and queens,
recipes of Paula Deen’s!