Word Nerd: A Miner Detail

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Today’s set of words touches on a sad bit of history; often in the past (and even in the present day in some places) miners were often minors, though minors were not always miners.

Miner: A person who works in a mine.

Minor: Lesser in size, extent, or importance; having low rank, status, position; a person who is not legally an adult; or a handful of other definitions, all relating to the idea of “less.”

Myna: A species of Asian birds that have the ability to imitate human voices.

minorMiner comes from the mid-1200s, from the Vulgar Latin minare, in Middle English it was minour, possibly from a Celtic base (in Welsh, mwyn means ore or mineral); in Medieval Latin mina means mine or mineral. This is one of those words that is similar in a variety of European languages.

Minor shows up in English around the same time, in the early 1200s, coming unchanged from the Latin minor meaning “less, lesser, smaller, junior,” which is used figuratively to mean “inferior, less important.” It’s a variation on minus.

In the early 1300s, St. Francis of Assisi founded a religious order, today called “Franciscans,” which he named “Fratres Minores,” Latin for “lesser brethren,” so named for the sake of humility.

Some English usages are via Old French menor “less, smaller, lower; underage, younger.” These meanings appear gradually over a couple of centuries:
Meaning “lesser”: early 1400s
Meaning “underage”: 1570s.
Meaning “less important”: 1620s.
The musical sense: 1690s.
In baseball, minor league is from 1884.
Meaning “secondary subject of study”: 1890; as a verb in this sense: 1934.

If you say that something is a miner concern, you’re saying it’s only of interest to people who work in mines.

Today’s Word Nerd entry was suggested by my daughter Kate. Thanks, Kate!

This is Word Nerd #54; you can find the previous installments in the Word Nerd Index.

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