Posted by: Jack Henry | September 29, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Minute and Menu

Happy Thursday!

Today’s fare is from Words of a Feather: A Humorous Puzzlement of Etymological Pairs, by Murray Suid. Our etymological adventure du jour covers the words menu and minute. Enjoy!

During the next minute or two, you’re going to learn that you know more than you think you do and that it takes brains to eat at a fast-food establishment. Readers, start your chronometers.

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

We’ve become so used to ordering from menus that we don’t realize how much knowledge and prior experience are required in the process. If you’re not convinced, think about offerings such as “Big Mac” (not listed in any ordinary cookbook or dictionary).

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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  1. What about the longest word typed entirely with the left hand?

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