Mea Culpa: Little letters

Susanna Richards rounds up our errors and omissions in last week’s Independent

<p>‘Majuscule’ and ‘minuscule’ are the names for the upper- and lower-case letters used in printing </p>

‘Majuscule’ and ‘minuscule’ are the names for the upper- and lower-case letters used in printing

A reader kindly wrote to say that we had used the wrong word in a report about wildfires when we said that “they are now erupting with unprecedented size and ferociousness in new parts of the world as the climate crisis worsens”. The contention was that we ought to have said “ferocity”. Actually, I rather like “ferociousness”, and the Oxford dictionary recognises it as a word in its own right, with exactly the same meaning.

Our correspondent was right about something else, though, noting that we had described a type of smoke particle as “miniscule”. That’s technically an incorrect spelling, though an extremely common one: it should be “minuscule”, from the Latin minuscula meaning “somewhat smaller”.

Its etymology is rather lovely, in fact: as a noun (derived from the adjective) it refers to letters in the lower-case alphabet, which developed by degrees from the 7th century AD, and in particular to their use in moveable type; their upper-case counterparts are called majuscules. So I think we owe it to our forebears in the printing (and manuscript-writing) industry to get it right, even though the variant spelling is widely considered acceptable.

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