If Someone Tells You That "Miniscule" Isn't a Real Spelling...

By Cornell Kimball

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In "Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage" (1989), part of the entry "miniscule, minuscule," notes:

    "This spelling [miniscule] was first recorded at the end of the 19th century (minuscule dates back to 1705), but it did not begin to appear frequently in edited prose until the 1940s. Its increasingly common use parallels the increasingly common use of the word itself, especially as an adjective meaning `very small.' "

During the last half of the 20th century, dictionary lines have been adding "miniscule." A telling case comes with the "Concise Oxford" dictionaries. The Eighth Edition, published in the mid-1980s, does have an entry for "miniscule," but labels it as "erroneous." However the "Concise Oxford Dictionary," Ninth Edition (1995) lists "miniscule" as simply a "variant" spelling.

The "American Heritage Dictionary," Third Edition (1992) gives "miniscule" as a full-fledged variant of "minuscule," as does "Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary," Tenth Edition (1993). Merriam-Webster's has been listing "miniscule" in their dictionaries since at least 1971.

"The Random House Unabridged Dictionary," Second Edition (1987) lists "miniscule" as a variant, with a usage note stating that while "this newer spelling is criticized by many, it occurs with such frequency in edited writing that some consider it a variant spelling rather than a misspelling."

I am told (on an Internet newsgroup) that "Macquarie's Australian Dictionary," Second Edition lists "miniscule" as a variant spelling as well.

Also noted in the "miniscule, minuscule" entry in "Merriam- Webster's Dictionary of English Usage" is this:

    "It may be, in fact, that miniscule is now the more common form. An article by Michael Kenney in the Boston Globe on 12 May 1985 noted that miniscule outnumbered minuscule by three to one in that newspaper's data base.

That entry concludes with this statement on the spelling "miniscule":

    "Our own view is that any spelling which occurs so commonly, year after year, in perfectly reputable and carefully edited books and periodicals must be regarded as a standard variant."

    By Cornell Kimball

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