"most important piece or feature," 1831, from French pièce de résistance, originally "the most substantial dish in a meal." Literally "piece of resistance;" there seems to be disagreement as to the exact signification.
"by pieces, in pieces, piece by piece, bit by bit," c. 1300, pece-mele, from piece (n.1) + Middle English meal "fixed time, period of time, occasion," from Old English mælum "at a time," dative plural of mæl "appointed time, food served" (see meal (n.1)). The second element once was more common, as in Old English styccemælum "bit by bit." Compare gearmælum "year by year," and inchmeal.
"piece of cloth used to mend another material," late 14c., pacche, of obscure origin, perhaps a variant of pece, pieche, from Old North French pieche (see piece (n.1)), or from an unrecorded Old English word (Old English had claðflyhte for "a patch").
Meaning "portion of any surface different from what is around it" is from 1590s. That of "small piece of ground," especially one under cultivation, is from 1570s. As "small piece of plaster used on the face," to cover blemishes or enhance beauty is from 1590s. Phrase not a patch on "nowhere near as good as" is from 1860.
1590s, "decorated entrance of a building," from French frontispice (16c.), which is probably from Italian frontespizio and Medieval Latin frontispicium "facade," originally "a view of the forehead, judgment of character through facial features," from Latin frons (genitive frontis) "forehead" (see front (n.)) + specere "to look at" (from PIE root *spek- "to observe"). Sense of "illustration facing a book's title page" first recorded 1680s. The English spelling alteration apparently is from confusion with unrelated piece (n.).
"partly decomposed vegetable matter abundant in moist regions of northern Europe," where, especially in Ireland, it was an important source of fuel, c. 1200 in Scottish Latin, of unknown origin, probably from a Celtic root *pett- (source also of Cornish peyth, Welsh peth "quantity, part, thing," Old Irish pet, Breton pez "piece"). The earliest sense is not of the turf but of the cut piece of it, and the Celtic root may be from the same PIE source as piece. Peat-bog is by 1775; peat-moss (mid-13c.) originally was "a peat bog;" the meaning "sphagnum moss" (the type that grows in peat bogs) is by 1880.
late 14c., "small, little; minor, trifling, insignificant," from Old French petit "small, little, young, few in numbers" (11c.), which is probably from the stem of Late Latin pitinnus "small," a word of uncertain origin; it corresponds to no known Latin form and perhaps is from a Celtic root pett- "part, piece, bit" also found in Italian pezza, English piece.
Attested as a surname from 1086. Replaced by petty in most usages, except in established forms such as petit bourgeois "conventional middle-class" (1832; used in English by Charlotte Brontë earlier than by Marx or Engels); petit mal ("mild form of epilepsy," 1842, literally "little evil"); petit-maître ("a fop, a dandy," 1711, literally "little master"); and petit four "small, fancy dessert cake" (1884), which in French means "little oven," from Old French four "oven," from Latin furnus. In Middle English a petiteskole (mid-15c.) was a school for young children.