Word Origin & History
early 13c., "fixed amount, measure, portion," from O.Fr. piece (11c.), from V.L. *pettia, probably from Gaulish (cf. Welsh peth "thing," Breton pez "piece"), from O.Celt. base *pett-. Sense of "portable firearm" first recorded 1580s; that of "chessman" is from 1562. Meaning "person regarded as a sex
object" is first recorded 1785 (cf. piece of ass, human beings colloquially called piece of flesh from 1590s; cf. also L. scortum "bimbo, anyone available for a price," lit. "skin," dim. scortillum "bimbette"). Meaning "a portion of a distance" is from 1612; that of "literary composition" dates from 1530s. The verb meaning "to mend by adding pieces" is recorded from late 14c.; sense of "to join, unite, put together" is from late 15c. Piece of my mind is from 1570s. The Mod.Fr. form is reborrowed into English in pièce de résistance (1839), originally "the most substantial dish in a meal." Piece-work dates from 1540s. Piece of work "remarkable person" echoes Hamlet. Piece of Eight is the old name for the Spanish dollar (c.1600) of the value of 8 reals.