peppercorn

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English[edit]

Etymology[edit]

From Middle English peper corn, peper-corn, pepercorn, from Old English piporcorn (peppercorn), corresponding to pepper +‎ corn. Compare Dutch peperkorrel (peppercorn), German Pfefferkorn (peppercorn), Danish peberkorn (peppercorn), Swedish pepparkorn (peppercorn), Icelandic piparkorn (peppercorn).

Pronunciation[edit]

Noun[edit]

peppercorn (plural peppercorns)

  1. The seeds of the plant Piper nigrum. Commonly used as a spice, usually but not always ground or crushed.
  2. A small, insignificant quantity; a whit or jot.
    • 1961, Book Production Magazine (volumes 73-74, page 47)
      A 75 ¢ book must look 40 ¢ better to the distributor and wholesaler, because if one peppercorn of doubt that people will pay 75 ¢ for the book gets thrown into the distribution mill, the books may never leave their cartons []
    1. (law, attributive) A nominal consideration used to satisfy the requirements for the creation of a legal contract.
      peppercorn rent

Usage notes[edit]

The use of a peppercorn as consideration in legal contracts is commonly literal (even in the modern day) - frequently as a peppercorn rent - but it is invariably accompanied by a proviso that it need only be physically provided if actually demanded.

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