Whether it’s the kernel of a pistachio nut or the kernel of wisdom in a story, kernel can refer to the center or essential part of something.

The word kernel traces back to the Old English word cyrnel, which is related to corn. If you have ever eaten corn on the cob, you ate the kernels. Popcorn is made by heating corn kernels until they explode, or "pop." Like these examples, sometimes kernel means "a small bit" or "single piece," as in a story someone tells you that couldn't possibly have happened as described, but still has a kernel of truth about human nature.

Definitions of kernel

n a single whole grain of a cereal

“a kernel of corn”
the dried grains or kernels or corn used as animal feed or ground for meal
Type of:
caryopsis, grain
dry seed-like fruit produced by the cereal grasses: e.g. wheat, barley, Indian corn

n the inner and usually edible part of a seed or grain or nut or fruit stone

“black walnut kernels are difficult to get out of the shell”
Type of:
plant part, plant structure
any part of a plant or fungus

n the choicest or most essential or most vital part of some idea or experience

center, centre, core, essence, gist, heart, heart and soul, inwardness, marrow, meat, nitty-gritty, nub, pith, substance, sum
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bare bones
(plural) the most basic facts or elements
(metaphysics) essential nature or underlying reality
haecceity, quiddity
the essence that makes something the kind of thing it is and makes it different from any other
the purest and most concentrated essence of something
a critically important or characteristic component
Type of:
cognitive content, content, mental object
the sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned

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