Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Avoiding a tiny spelling error

with 7 comments

Very British Mini

Image by skithund via Flickr

Spot the very common spelling error in the following extracts:

The chances of those (i.e. poorer students) going to university are miniscule compared to those who are privately educated. (Telegraph online)

Ian McCartney, the miniscule, Scottish-born former chairman of the Labour Party, donned a kilt this week… (Independent online)

We can say this with confidence because aid to these countries is miniscule as a percentage of their GDP… (Guardian online)

Yes, isn’t it. (Tricky.)

The error is ‘miniscule’. And you’ll see it spelt wrongly but everywhere. The correct spelling is:


An easy mistake to make…

It’s an easy mistake to make because of the obvious analogy with the word ‘mini’. But ‘minuscule’  is not etymologically related to the word ‘mini’.

‘Mini’ derives from ‘miniature’. This is based on the Italian ‘miniatura’ via the earlier Latin ‘miniare’ and ‘minium’.

‘Minuscule’ derives from the Latin ‘minuscula’ meaning ‘somewhat smaller’.

Memory aid

I remember the spelling of minuscule by thinking of the word ‘minus’ rather than ‘mini’.

Spelling tips and tricks.


7 Responses

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  1. Oh yes. Absolutely.
    I spent the first 20 years of my life spelling it as miniscule. I got it right only after I became a sub-editor.
    And thinking of it as “minus” is the way I remember it, too.
    Keep up the good work!


    01/11/2010 at 7:20 am

    • Hi, Pat — thank you! Yes, it’s a funny one. I can’t remember when I first realised the correct spelling (some years ago) but I know it surprised me!


      01/11/2010 at 8:16 am

  2. Morning Deborah,

    Me, too – the u is so counter-intuitive. I have a suspicion that the word is spelt wrongly far more than it’s spelt correctly. So much so that I think many people must overrule their spell-checkers to achieve it.


    01/11/2010 at 8:32 am

    • Hi, Ron — yes, I’m sure both your observations are correct. It’s definitely a spelling you have to consciously learn.


      01/11/2010 at 8:42 am

  3. You’ve added a “u” to “labor”?

    Michael Farrell

    01/11/2010 at 2:51 pm

    • You mean it should be an ‘i’??


      01/11/2010 at 3:09 pm

  4. From The New York Times’ After Deadline column:

    What with all this excitement, the lawmakers did not have enough time to make a miniscule change in a state law that would have allowed 20,000 residents to get extended unemployment benefits…”

    Oh, that “mini” — so logical, so obvious, so wrong. It’s “minuscule,” of course. Think “minute,” not “miniature.” Put this in the same memory box with “supersede” (S, not C) and other frequently misspelled words, and trust your spelling checker.


    11/05/2011 at 12:48 pm

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