Today the Grammar Guru is turning its attention to just one word.
It is possibly one of the most mis-spelled, misunderstood and under-appreciated words in the English language. It is also a perfect illustration of why the dictionary is every would-be grammar guru’s best friend.
The word is “minuscule”. Take careful note of the spelling. It has only one “i”! Hands up how many people have seen it spelled wrongly as “miniscule”? Or (gasp!) spelled it that way themselves?
In some ways the confusion is understandable – if not excusable. “Mini” means small, right? And “minuscule” is used to mean a very small thing, so . . .
However, this is a linguistic red herring. And here is where your trusty dictionary comes in. For once you understand the origins of “minuscule”, you will never mis-spell it again. Knowledge is power!
The actual dictionary definition of “minuscule” is NOT simply “a very small thing”. It is a much lovelier and more interesting word than that.
In fact, according to our Chambers office dictionary, “minuscule” is a noun meaning “a small, cursive script, originated by the monks in the 7c-9c; a manuscript written in it; a lower-case letter”. And, when used as an adjective, it means “written or printed in minuscule; very small; very unimportant”. How perfectly wonderful – and fascinating – is that?
“Minuscule” is, in a sense, a little story snapshot from history in one word, transmitting down through the years an image of monks writing painstakingly in a tiny hand so as to use their precious paper as thriftily as possible. Mis-spelling it does those monks a grave injustice!
And if you need a further memory aid, one is provided in the definition of “mini”. It is a contraction of “miniature”, a “combining form used to signify small”, as in “minibus”, “minibreak”. If ever you are tempted to write “minuscule” as “miniscule”, remember that – and ask yourself what on earth a miniature “scule” is!