Minuscule or miniscule?

The adjective minuscule is a good example of a word whose spelling is changing. It comes from a Latin word, minuscule, meaning ‘somewhat smaller’, but because minuscule means ‘very small’, many people naturally associate it with the word mini, and so spell it miniscule instead.

Looking at the Corpus, we've discovered that the spelling miniscule now makes up around 52% of the total use of the word. This includes examples in printed sources such as newspapers and periodicals as well as in chatrooms or unedited personal blogs. This is from an online edition of a well-known Scottish Sunday paper:

The Edinburgh International Film Festival has a budget of about £1 million, a miniscule amount compared to Cannes or Venice.

and this is from a zoological journal:

Though a few other insects have been shown statistically to have minute differences in wing size, the variances have been too miniscule for the human eye to detect.

But even though the spelling miniscule is slightly more frequent, it hasn't yet become accepted as standard English and you should still treat it as an error to be avoided. If you look up minuscule in the dictionary you'll find that there's a note explaining this. Nevertheless, what's considered controversial today may become acceptable: at some future time, miniscule may be added as a valid alternative spelling.


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Grammar and usage