Wordsmithing with Bryan Garner: The Case of “Miniscule”

American Etymologist Bryan Garner recently posted a tip addressing the misuse of the term “minuscule.” He says that the common spelling of “miniscule” is incorrect. “Minuscule” is “derived from the word ‘minus’; it has nothing to do with the prefix “mini-,” he writes.IMG_0005 Garner 2

But he adds that the word is commonly misspelled and cites several surprising examples of the error (I’ll include two here):

  • “Mouth hanging open, Harry saw that the little square for June thirteenth seemed to have turned into a miniscule [read ‘minuscule’] television screen” (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, p. 242).
  • “Even as some people questioned the practical effect of saving such a miniscule [read ‘minuscule’] portion of the state budget, they were mostly willing to forgo cynicism” (Kathleen Burge, “Forgoing of Salaries Gets Mixed Reviews,” Boston Globe , 2 January, 2003, B5)

(“Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day,” May 27, 2015).

Does the mistake Garner corrects here strike you as minuscule? Are you a usage nay-sayer who thinks that such a word is used too infrequently to worry about? Language specialists argue for the importance of accuracy and consistency in our written and edited copy. Even apparently minor words warrant close attention.

Do you make this particular error more in the vernacular than in writing?

Please share your usage bugbears with me below, or on my contact page.

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