« Bent on evil | Main | Somebody noticed me »

Of minute importance

I picked up an article last week in which one of our writers talked about “dealing with the minutia,” and it was far from the first time I had seen that.

The word for petty details, those of you who have had even a little Latin should know, is minutiae. It is the plural form of minutia, which would be a singular petty detail, and is a word unlikely to be encountered. Both would be pronounced in English as “my-NOO-sha,” a likely source of confusion.

Minutia, “smallness” in Latin, is linked to minutus, “little.” Minutus also gives us the English minute, pronounced “my-NOOT,” as in the title of this post: very small, tiny, trifling, of slight importance, etc. It is also linked to the homograph minute, which we pronounce as “MIN-it.”

You could also say that insistence on minutiae is also of minuscule importance, which also means petty or trifling. (It originally identified a small cursive script, as distinguished from the larger, often upper-case majuscule.) And there, the prescriptivist tide flowing high in my blood, I will insist that you observe that first u instead of writing, as many do, miniscule.

Some trifles merit your attention.



Posted by John McIntyre at 2:49 PM | | Comments (5)


Govans Elementary School. Fourth Grade. Mrs. Hanbury.

I got one wrong on my spelling test. Words tested included minute, as in the title of this post, and minute, which I had misspelled.

I spent the lunch period, recess and an hour after school receiving help from Mrs. H. She sent me home to research the spelling. I had gotten it right without her acknowledgement. She wanted me spell it with confidence!

The next morning I exploded with the information as soon as I hit the classroom. She seemed perplexed with my behavior.

Hmm........ so "miniscule" (the not uncommon misspelling of the correct, "minuscule"), should never be confused w/ the arcane Yiddish term, 'minishul'----- a very tiny synagogue? (Groan)

And to just settle the burning issue once-and-for-all, does branding of Uncle Ben's most popular food product, "Minute Rice", indicate that the packaged rice grains are unusually small (minute), or that it actually takes a mere 60 seconds of boiling time to arrive at the quickie, ready-to-eat side-dish?

Inquiring, (simple) minds would like to know.


Gotta go.......... the old turnip truck is just about ready to pull out.


I have it on good authority that St. Minutia is the patron saint of catalogers.

"...does branding of Uncle Ben's most popular food product, "Minute Rice", indicate that the packaged rice grains are unusually small (minute), or that it actually takes a mere 60 seconds of boiling time to arrive at the quickie, ready-to-eat side-dish?"

Minute Rice, which was introduced by General Foods in 1949, is instant rice -- that is, rice that has been pre-cooked and then vacuum dried. Its name derives from the fact that it could be rehydrated and ready to eat in 60 seconds.

Uncle Ben's, which was introduced by the Converted Rice Co. in 1943, is parboiled rice -- that is, rice that has been boiled in the husk, thereby transferring the nutrients in the bran to the grain. Its name derives from the fictitious African American character who serves as the company logo.

Amazing what you can learn with a little research.

J. D. Considine,

Good catch!

Hmm.......... so how long have you been going to 'Nit-pickers Anonymous'?

May Dahlink's patron saint of "cataloguer" bless you.

Respectfully, I was admittedly playing a tad fast-and-loose w/ the commercial rice product brand labeling. But I did so to merely bring a little levity to the minute/ minute discussion, 'tis all. Deception, or spreading miss-information was not my intent.

As an early 'boomer', i knew it was "Uncle Ben's Converted Rice", and that "Minute Rice'" was another competing 'brand', but for the sake of making my point, i conflated the two, clearly risking that some quibblers might come out of the woodwork to right my grievous wrong. Obviously my trepidation was warranted.

I say God bless Wikipedia. Truly an amazing "research" tool, eh?

But J.D., thanks for the entailed clarification/ distinction, nonetheless.

Inquiring rice eaters wanted to know. No worries.


Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
Baltimore Sun Facebook page

Most Recent Comments
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Stay connected