WORDS: MINI

Share
Related Topics
THE ROYAL Academy has been staging a "mini exhibition" marking the International Year of Older Persons, I read in the Independent. The word mini is defined in the dictionaries as "very small", and everyone knows that small is beautiful, but I doubt whether its sponsors would have been too happy if the show had been described as "a very small exhibition". For mini has a cachet that its synonyms lack. There's a whiff of the chic about it, rather like the chic that used to attach to the word bijou until the estate agents took it up and made a laughing-stock of it.

It is often thought that mini is an abbreviation of miniature, but this is quite wrong. The adjective, as now universally used, is really short for minimus, and the credit for this should go to the British Motor Corporation, whose Mini, as Older Persons will remember, was unveiled not quite 40 years ago.

Back in 1930, Lord Nuffield had brought out his answer to the Baby Austin and called it the Morris Minor, a variation of the "Junior" favoured by all kinds of manufacturers for their cheaper products. "Minor", unlike them, had a classy public-school ring to it. Then Nuffield produced a now almost forgotten big brother to the Minor and called it the Morris Major. So in 1960 it was only logical to keep up the Greyfriars tradition and to call the new boy a Morris Minimus. (It was Ford, of course, that tried to go one better with its Prefect.)

However, the scholarly little joke fell flat and was soon forgotten, so Alec Issigonis's brainchild rapidly became the Minicar. Its etymological origin was further obscured some years later when the BMC brought out the Maxi, giving the impression that mini was short for minimum.

There had been an additional problem with the name "Minimus" because of its nearness to the already existing minibus, making it vulnerable to typographical error. The minibus, horse-drawn in its early days, had been around since the middle of the 19th century. It was what Lewis Carroll called a portmanteau word - its back end came from omnibus, its front from minimum. It was only in the early 1960s, then, that mini, the noun, came into the language. This must be the only example of a word now in general use that began as a name for a car; the only other kind of mini that I know of is a skirt, and that came later than the car. The adjective followed soon after, but it took a while before it became totally detached. At first it had always needed a noun to go with it, such as a skirt or a cab, while most other things called for a hyphen. Mini-cycles, mini- holidays and mini-budgets all had one, as did mini-celebrities, though I see from Webster that the Americans, ahead as usual, were calling miniature cameras minicams in the 1930s.

Its final graduation as a word on its own, without visible support, came when people began saying that some things were minier than others. I suppose it could one day go the way of bijou, but not for a long while yet.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
More From
nicholas bagnall
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee