Definition of piecemeal in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈpiːsmiːl/

adjective& adverb

Characterized by unsystematic partial measures taken over a period of time: [as adjective]: the village is slowly being killed off by piecemeal development [as adverb]: many organizations have been built up piecemeal
More example sentences
  • In comparison, all other tax deduction measures are too piecemeal, and too minimal, in effect.
  • The Court might seek to change parts of it piecemeal and over a period of time as this would appear to be less provocative towards an elected body.
  • The inquiry should ask why a piecemeal approach was allowed, and why different sets of stalls are used in tests and on courses.
a little at a time, piece by piece, bit by bit, gradually, slowly, in stages, in steps, step by step, little by little, by degrees, in/by fits and starts, in bits;
bittily, irregularly, erratically, unevenly, discontinuously, disjointedly, unsystematically
rare inchmeal


Middle English: from the noun piece + -meal from Old English mǣlum, in the sense 'measure, quantity taken at one time'.

  • meal from Old English:

    Meal meaning ‘the edible part of any grain or pulse’ goes back to an ancient root shared with Latin molere ‘to grind’, which shares a root with mill. The meal at which food is eaten has a root meaning ‘to measure’. In Old English meal also meant ‘a measure’, a use which survives in piecemeal (Middle English) ‘a bit at a time’. The expression to make a meal of dates from the early 17th century in the sense ‘to take advantage of’, but the notion ‘to make something unduly laborious’ goes back only to the 1960s. The idea behind mealy-mouthed, ‘afraid to speak frankly or straightforwardly’, is of a person having their mouth full of meal and so being afraid to open it fully. It is first recorded in the 1570s, and probably comes from an old German proverb.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: piece|meal

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