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From Middle English pecemele, from pece (piece) + mele (from Old English mǣlum (at a time), dative plural form of mǣl (time, measure)), taking the place of Old English styċċemǣlum (in pieces, bit by bit, piecemeal; to pieces, to bits; here and there, in different places; little by little, by degrees, gradually); equivalent to piece +‎ -meal.



piecemeal (not comparable)

  1. Made or done in pieces or one stage at a time.
    • 1947 - George Marshall, The Marshall Plan Speech
      Such assistance, I am convinced, must not be on a piecemeal basis, as various crises develop.
    • 1953, James Strachey, translation of Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, Avon Books, pg. 224:
      But the copious and intertwined associative links warrant our accepting the former alternative: cyclamen—favourite flower—favourite food— artichokes; pulling to pieces like an artichoke, leaf by leaf (a phrase constantly ringing in our ears in relation to the piecemeal dismemberment of the Chinese Empire)—herbarium—bookworms, whose favourite food is books.

Usage notes[edit]

Nouns to which "piecemeal" is often applied: fashion, approach, basis, way, change, reform, measure.


Derived terms[edit]


See also[edit]


piecemeal (not comparable)

  1. Piece by piece; in small amounts, stages, or degrees.
    • 1914 - Saki, The Forbidden Buzzards
      It’s as bad as selling a man a horse with half a dozen latent vices and watching him discover them piecemeal in the course of the hunting season.
  2. Into pieces or parts.
    • 1888 - The Whitehall Murder, Daily Telegraph (London), October 03
      A few years ago also there was the case of Kate Webster, who at Richmond murdered her mistress, and, fiend-like, cut the body up piecemeal, and tried to dispose of it in various ways by small portions.





piecemeal (third-person singular simple present piecemeals, present participle piecemealing, simple past and past participle piecemealed)

  1. (transitive) To divide or distribute piecemeal; dismember.

Derived terms[edit]


piecemeal (plural piecemeals)

  1. A fragment; a scrap.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of R. Vaughan to this entry?)