Entries linking to two bits
"small piece," c. 1200; related Old English bite "act of biting," and bita "piece bitten off," which probably are the source of the modern words meaning "boring-piece of a drill" (the "biting" part, 1590s), "mouthpiece of a horse's bridle" (mid-14c.), and "a piece (of food) bitten off, morsel" (c. 1000). All from Proto-Germanic *biton (source also of Old Saxon biti, Old Norse bit, Old Frisian bite, Middle Dutch bete, Old High German bizzo "biting," German Bissen "a bite, morsel"), from PIE root *bheid- "to split."
Meaning "small piece, fragment" of anything is from c. 1600. Sense of "short space of time" is 1650s. Theatrical bit part is from 1909. Money sense "small coin" in two bits, etc. is originally from the U.S. South and the West Indies, in reference to silver wedges cut or stamped from Spanish dollars (later Mexican reals); transferred to "eighth of a dollar."
c. 1200, pece, "fixed amount, measure, portion;" c. 1300, "fragment of an object, bit of a whole, slice of meat; separate fragment, section, or part," from Old French piece "piece, bit portion; item; coin" (12c.), from Vulgar Latin *pettia, probably from Gaulish *pettsi (compare Welsh peth "thing," Breton pez "piece, a little"), perhaps from an Old Celtic base *kwezd-i-, from PIE root *kwezd- "a part, piece" (source also of Russian chast' "part"). Related: Pieces.
Meaning "separate article forming part of a class or group" is from c. 1400; that of "specimen, instance, example" is from 1560s. Sense of "portable firearm" is from 1580s, earlier "artillery weapon" (1540s). The meaning "chessman" is from 1560s. Meaning "a period of time" is from early 14c.; that of "a portion of a distance" is from 1610s; that of "literary composition" dates from 1530s.
Piece of (one's) mind "one's opinion expressed bluntly" is from 1570s. Piece of work "remarkable person" echoes Hamlet. Piece as "a coin" is attested in English from c. 1400, hence piece of eight, old name for the Spanish dollar (c. 1600) of the value of 8 reals and bearing a numeral 8. Adverbial phrase in one piece "whole, undivided, without loss or injury" is by 1580s; of a piece "as of the same piece or whole" is from 1610s.
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updated on June 04, 2020