Friday, 20 November 2009

meiosis and minestrone

In a striking example of how etymologies are not definitions, miniature and the adjective mini as in iPod mini, mini-me, etc., are from Italian miniatura "small brightly coloured image used to decorate books, manuscripts, etc." from Latin miniāre "to make red". The OED explains:

Italian miniatura originally denoted the painting of small images to decorate the initial letters of chapters in manuscripts (compare the use of post-classical Latin miniare in the sense 'to rubricate'). As these images were necessarily small, the term came to be used for small portraits, probably reinforced by an association by folk etymology with (ultimately classical Latin) min- in minore MINOR adj., etc., which has probably also affected the development of the extended senses in English and in other languages.

So mini and miniature are unrelated to minor, minus, minuscule and minimum. The latter four words are from Proto-Indo-European *mei- "small".

*mei- also gives us meiosis from Greek μείωσις "lessening".

And minister from Latin minister "servant, subordinate" - as in "inferior". The Latin minister is also found in minestrone - from Italian minestra "dish" plus the -one suffix. Minestra is from Latin minestrāre "to provide, supply" from minister.


Cailliomachas said...

Thanks. I find this fascinating. Languages play these tricks on the unwary. In the film, In Bruges, one of the hitmen (Brendan Gleeson) looks into a thick fog and not being able to see anything says "Bollocks!". The German subtitle is "Mist!"

david said...

Very interesting. The Latin language has created a great impact on other languages and especially in the spoken format of English language i believe.
Nice sharing.