Word Evolution

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Why some words survive and others don’t.


My grandmother’s brother was a sports columnist in Dallas,TX for many years. His name was Sam Blair and he wrote a book titled Dallas Cowboys, Pro or Con. My mother was an indefatigable wordsmith and voracious reader. Both of these hobbies helped her battle depression. She would read to me until she was hoarse.

I recall being very curious at a young age about word origins(etymology) and how a word “made it”. I mean there was a ton of words in the dictionary and a relatively small percentage actually crept into common parlance. So it became evident that some words had survival skill and others did not., I remember when disingenuous was on the shelf and now you hear the word rather frequently on many of the talking heads shows.

The very popular miniscule has been in circulation for some time and literally means small letter, but just means small in its current usage. Miniscule is the very big brother of majuscule. Majuscule, as you may have surmised, means large letter. In my over 50 years on this planet, I have yet to hear anyone use majuscule in the same metaphorical way miniscule is used. In fact, I have never heard the word spoken except by the monotone diction of the the online dictionaries.

Yeah I know, I need to get a life.
So what gives? Why is miniscule a popular word and majuscule is still sitting on the shelf? I will posit the very weak conjecture that there are many more small letters than large letters in most written work. Some sort of evolutionary pressure is at work here. Both words are equally easy to spell and pronounce. This is a consideration since I am certain that a difficult to pronounce word is far less likely to become frequently spoken.

Somewhere, somehow miniscule caught fire and I guess we will never know why.

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