Minuscule vs. Miniscule
When a reader kindly pointed out that I’d misspelled minuscule in a post, my first reaction was puzzlement. I’d written about “a miniscule difference,” meaning “a tiny difference.” I spelled the word the way I pronounce it: min-i-SKYOOL.
On the other hand, the term minuscule is in my vocabulary. I know that Carolingian minuscule is a type of rounded script developed in the court of Charlemagne. When I learned the word in that context, I was taught to pronounce it mi-NUHS-kyool.
I was being what Charles Elster (The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations) would call a dimbulb:
[O]nly a dimbulb would intentionally write miniscule.
Note: Elster devotes more than two pages to a rant against miniscule and the many “apathetic and squiffy-eyed” dictionary editors who accept it as a variant spelling of minuscule.
The spelling miniscule appears as early as the 1880s on the Ngram Viewer, but doesn’t show a rise until the 1930s, peaking in 1980 and then descending.
The OED has a separate entry for miniscule (noun and adjective), and includes citations from the late 19th and early 20th century:
The miniscule is the prevailing character in the Latin manuscript of the ninth century. —American Encyclopedia of Printing, 1871.
The letters of the inscription are all miniscules, with the exception of the monogram.
—Antiquary (a monthly antiquarian magazine published from 1880-1915 in London and New York), 1908.
The legend is in Roman capitals of a debased type, with a tendency to the miniscule form. —Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1874.
Each of the text letters already named has its own lower case or ‘miniscule’ letters. —John Southward, Modern Printing (a British publication), 1898.
I am not trying to make a case for the spelling miniscule. I’m just pointing out that it has been out there for many years. Judging by the word’s precipitate drop on the Ngram Viewer in the 1980s, it seems that people are getting the message that minuscule is the spelling to use in any context.
Although some dictionaries may be wishy-washy about the matter, my two style guides agree that minuscule is the only correct spelling:
The Chicago Manual of Style
minuscule. Something that is minuscule is “very small.” Probably because of the spelling of the modern word mini (and the prefix of the same spelling, which is recorded only from 1936), it is often misspelled miniscule (which is treated as a variant in some dictionaries).
The AP Style Book
minuscule Not miniscule.
Note: When I wrote an email asking that the spelling be changed in the post, the Google email application automatically changed miniscule to minuscule. The Word spell checker, on the other hand, permits it to pass unchallenged.
Browse all articles on the Misused Words category or check the recommended content for you below:
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