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I've heard people say "this early in the piece" or "this late in the piece". It seems to be spoken as a kind of idiomatic expression, but I'm not sure what it really means.

What is the meaning of the phrase?

What is the abstract "the piece" that is meant? Piece of what?

I wasn't even sure if it should be "piece" or "peace", however doing a Google search seems to come up in favour of "piece".

What is the etymology of the phrase?

Examples:

"His argument against the legislation came too late in the piece. The decision had already been made."

(Word mavens ~ Is it "late in the peace" or "late in the piece"?)

From early in the piece, even before Coombs became chair of the Australian council for the Arts in 1967 (the organization that Whitlam reinvented in 1973 as the Australia Council), Ken consulted him about aspects of the art center...

(The Many Lives of Kenneth Myer, by Sue Ebury)

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    Completely depends on context. For concerts, for example, the overture occurs early in the piece [of music]. But historians of warfare will describe events occurring early the peace [between the warring factions]. – Dan Bron Feb 3 '16 at 23:37
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    I've never encountered it outside of a musical context, and rarely then. Are you seeing/hearing it frequently? Among who? Coworkers? Friends? What area do you live in? – Dan Bron Feb 3 '16 at 23:52
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    I hear it occasionally, in no specific context. I'm an American/Australian living 90% of my life in Australia. If you do a Google search for "early in the piece" the results give an idea of usage (barring a few that are specifically musical). – Craig McQueen Feb 4 '16 at 0:04
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    "Early/late in the piece" is perfectly ordinary usage when talking about music, especially classical music. (Most pop tunes being too short for "early" or "late" to have much meaning.) I don't think I've heard this expression used in a metaphorical sense; that niche seems to be filled by "early/late in the game". – Marthaª Feb 25 '16 at 5:07
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    I don't know any other way to do this, but at this point I wish to protest this question being "put on hold". The question is sufficiently clear. If you do NOT agree, you should speak up and state WHY you do not agree (or why you think it unclear) here in the comments. To simply close it as unclear (again), is unhelpful, counterproductive, and impolite. If I could send a personal message to the users who have the power to take this action, I would. But, I do not, so I must do it this way. – Corvus B Mar 1 '16 at 3:47
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As an Australian, early/late in the piece does not sound strange to me. I would say it probably is the same as early/late in the game, which does sound strange, but understandable, to me.

The piece is a series of events and could describe just about anything, such as a negotiation. The U.S. came to the table late in the piece and proceeded to throw its weight around. I have found specific instances where the piece refers to a musical piece, but generally this is not the case when these phrases are used.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a reference for this so I can't offer an explanation of the etymology without just making something up. I can only offer an Ngram and a few books as examples of the phrases in use.

Early in the piece:

Late in the piece:

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Think "early in the game". "Early", or "Late in the game" are idioms used to express a viewpoint about timeliness, using a sports analogy. I'm not sure whether the usage of piece here came about as a sort of "mixed metaphor" misusage or what, but, to me, the meaning is still obvious. Here, though, "piece" replaces "game" to describe some event. "Piece" can be used to refer to a musical performance, or any other media performance or event. It can also be used to refer to a work of writing. See http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/piece. Using either "game", or "piece", the speaker is using this to provide some color or character to what they have said.

"Piece" is being used to refer to a series of events that are a subset of a bigger picture. For the legislative example, there is a time when the outcome is malleable, and there is a later time when all parties have made their decisions and there is no longer room for negotiation or persuasion. "Piece" is referring to the actions surrounding this legislation, as though they were a play. Thus "early in" or "late in" would carry some implied meaning. Since there are parallels, "piece" is being used to describe a lot more varied series of events than a strict interpretation of the definition would allow.

  • On re-reading my answer, I could, I think, completely delete the 2nd paragraph. I would do so, except that would make a major change, and I'm not sure that would be appropriate. – Corvus B Oct 17 '16 at 18:05

protected by user140086 Jun 5 '16 at 6:01

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