part and partial for part and parcel

A Partial Boner

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, in a press conference broadcast on January 5, 2015:

 “It’s just part and partial of the president’s goals…”

Uh-oh, Mr. Earnest. That would be part and parcel, an idiom on the wane but not yet on its deathbed. It is hardly unusual to come across this old phrase in print or hear it pop up in everyday speech – for instance, in a sentence like  “After-school practice sessions are part and parcel of playing high school football.”

The Oxford English Dictionary’s first definition of parcel is “a part, portion, or division of anything (material or immaterial),” followed by several closely-related definitions of the word, one being “a package.” Other dictionaries follow suit, some adding to the package def “especially one sent by mail.” Josh, you’re probably thinking “What the hey? You mean the two P-words of the phrase essentially mean the same thing?” Yes, but only for the sake of emphasis, which puts part and parcel in the company of longstanding idioms such as each and every, hue and cry,* and cease and desist.

“Parcel” Then and Now

I’ll be honest, Earnest, and admit your malapropism isn’t all that surprising: The use of part and parcel has slowly declined since the nineteenth century… and as of this writing, you are only 37 years old. (The idiom itself is ancient by comparison, having originated in the early 1500s and peaked in the mid-eighteenth century.) Therefore, if the bonering/bloopering/botching of partial for parcel in both print and speech is any indication, you are in league with a great number of your peers.

Middle English speaker Geoffrey Chaucer used parcel in the sense of “portion” when he wrote in The Complaint Unto Pity (1368), “What nedeth to shewe parcel of my peyne?” (Translation: “What need to show a portion of my efforts?”). Today the “package” sense (first recorded use, 1562), has superseded the “portion” meaning. Yet the latter sense survives in a verb: parcel out, used when giving, sending, or delivering anything piecemeal rather than all at once.

*Only two meanings of hue made their way into the twenty-first century: 1) “a color, or a shade thereof”; and 2) “kind or type.” The three-letter word, from Old French hu (“outcry”), dates from the late 1500s and described the noise made by posses of ersatz town criers as they pursued criminals and raised the alarm. After the word fell from everyday use, it was revived in the 1700s as “a public outcry” — a meaning that lives on in the idiom hue and cry.