Posted by: episystechpubs | January 8, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Menu and Minute

Good morning and congratulations for making it through five whole workdays in a row! Today’s delicious offering is another set of etymologies from Words of a Feather: A Humorous Puzzlement of Etymological Pairs, by Murray Suid.

Menu and Minute

The word minute, referring to the unit of time, came into English from the Latin minutus, “small.” This happened in the late fourteenth century, the beginning of the era of accurate time measurement. But the concept of the minute, as a fraction of an hour, tracks back to Babylonian texts written about three thousand years earlier. The Babylonians lacked devices that could measure such small units, but they understood their theoretical importance, especially in the study of the heavenly bodies.

Menu, a French word that like minute traces back to the Latin minutus, is a nineteenth-century creation that came about to solve a practical problem: how to let restaurant customers know what items were being served—without consuming too much of the waiters’ time.

The solution was to print a list of foods, known as menu de repas. The phrase might be translated as “a small (description) of foods.” Eventually, continuing the spirit of saving space, menu de repas was shortened to menu.

KC – And as far as the adjective minute (very tiny) there is more in this etymology from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

minute (adj.)

Early 15c., "chopped small," from Latin minutus "little, small, minute," past participle of minuere "to lessen, diminish" (see minus). Meaning "very small in size or degree" is attested from 1620s. Related: Minutely; minuteness.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

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