Minimize vs. Reduce
A reader feels there’s a difference between the words minimize and reduce:
Writers often use “minimize” to mean “reduce.” To minimize something is to reduce it to the smallest amount or degree. To “reduce” something is simply to make it smaller.
He offers two examples of perceived misuse of the word minimize and draws a distinction:
“This tactic could minimize in-study deaths and, if ineffective, clear the path for more rapid investigation of other interventions. (NY Times).”
“[Y]ou can actually boost your returns while at the same time minimize your risk by incorporating some simple option strategies. (NASDAQ site.)”
In each example, the recommendation reduces a negative consequence, but it doesn’t necessarily minimize it, because other negative consequences might exist. This may seem like a nuanced distinction, but it makes a degree of difference!
My two main dictionaries give these definitions:
minimize verb: To reduce (especially, something unwanted or unpleasant) to the smallest possible amount, extent, or degree.
reduce verb: to make smaller, diminish.
minimize verb: to reduce to the smallest possible number, degree, or extent.
reduce verb: to diminish in size, amount, extent, or number; make smaller.
In certain contexts, such as losing weight, lowering a price, or bringing a liquid to a smaller volume, reduce is the only choice.
In other contexts, however, minimize and reduce are synonymous. The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus lists reduce among synonyms for minimize and minimize among those for reduce.
The use of both words is tracked from 1800 on the Ngram Viewer, but minimize is rare until the beginning of the twentieth century. Reduce remains the more common word on the Viewer and in a Google search.
Here are some other words and phrases that express degrees of diminishment:
cut, cut back
keep to a minimum
slim, slim down
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