My word: Laurie Barber tackles the nuances of the minute

A matter of time: The word and origins of 'minutes' has a long history behind it.
A matter of time: The word and origins of 'minutes' has a long history behind it.

Most organisations (dare I say all?) have secretaries. Those secretaries keep minutes of meetings, and probably many of them have no idea why minutes have their name.

Clocks have minutes, and hours, and sometimes - often in motels - the alarm goes off just when you don’t want it to, usually about 2am. Check the clocks before you go to bed.

Anyway, this column isn’t about minutes of clocks. This column is about minutes of meetings.

The word minute represents something in miniature. The idea is that the secretary takes down often the names of people there and the important decisions, subject to the organisation’s policies.

The action of taking the minutes has been referred to as minutation, but you won’t see that word in many dictionaries.

Minuteness is the quality of being extremely small.

Some associated words are minuteless (not to be measured by minutes), minuted (recorded in a minute or note), minutely (every minute), minuter (one who writes minutes), minutie (a trifling detail), minutial (pertaining to details), minutious (dealing with minutes) and minutulous (very small).

The town in which I live has signs on some posts, saying “three minutes to such and such” referring to different parts of town..

Dictionaries might say a unit of something small, such as a coin of trifling value.

The Macquarie Dictionary says the word, in plural, records the proceedings of a meeting.

The word represents only the outline of the meeting, so the secretary, or the minute taker, records only the decisions taken and the other materials according to the direction of the organisation.

Stephen Murray-Smith said minutia was often found in the plural and meant very small or trifling details.

The first English dictionary, prepared in 1604, said of minutely “smally”. You can’t get much smaller than that.

John Ayto agreed but added that the minutes generally were a rough draft in small writing. He added that minute was a small unit of time, which English acquired from old French.

Nigel Rees said the minutes were taken down in small writing “so they could be engrossed or put into larger writing later. I couldn’t understand that. Why would you put minutes in small writing so you could put them in larger writing later?

I know that in my secretarial days I would write the minutes in longhand, then tear out the page and paste the page in the appropriate place later. It saved a lot of work and nobody ever complained.

lauriebarber.com; lbword@midcoast.com.au.