Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Mike from Cadillac asked about the origin of minutes, the notes taken during a meeting. I had no instant answer, but I did say that there were two possibilities: the minute referring to time (min-it), and the minute meaning tiny (my-newt). That turns out to be a distinction without a difference.

The minute referring to time had its origins in Babylonian mathematics and astronomy, which used sexagesimal fractions – based on the number 60. Later, the Greeks and Romans adapted the system. So we call 1/60th of an hour a minute.

The minute meaning small is actually the same word with a different pronunciation. Originally, it was said of food chopped into fine particles or of something insignificant or trivial.

By the 15th century, the word in plural form was being used to describe a brief summary of a meeting.

SIDEBAR: How to take minutes

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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