Minutia, minutiae

Minutia is a singular noun meaning a small detail. Minutiae is the Latin plural of minutia, and we usually use it in English. Latin plurals are often tricky, and many eventually drop out of English in favor of –s plurals, but minutiae is deeply entrenched and is likely to stick around, at least in more formal and technical writing registers. Minutias does not regularly appear.

But minutia is often treated as a mass noun (e.g., all the minutia is slowing us down), and it’s sometimes treated as plural, as in the first three examples below. If either of these usages becomes more common, we could soon see minutiae begin to fade from popular usage.


Because we usually speak of trivial details as plural rather than singular, minutia should properly be less common than minutiae. But minutia is often used in place of its plural—for example:

We’re hoping that someone is sharing the minutia of our day, even if it is across a broadband connection. [Time]

If you’re like me, you don’t have the patience to wade through all minutia of a sports labor mess. [Los Angeles Times]

They are at their happiest dissecting the minutia found between the lines in polls. [Toronto Sun]

And these writers use minutia and minutiae in the traditional ways:

In an era in which political reporting has become more and more focused on minutiae, he kept his focus where it belonged. [Washington Post]

Every regal minutia was faithfully recorded. [Guardian]

He is also described as a devourer of knowledge, theory and minutiae. [New Zealand Herald]

4 thoughts on “Minutia, minutiae”

  1. it’s been two years, but I might have an answer for Dan Caseley as to why his ngrams go opposite the stated trend – In biometrics and forensic science, minutiae are major features of a fingerprint, using which comparisons of one print with another can be made. Minutiae include:
    Ridge ending – the abrupt end of a ridge
    Ridge bifurcation – a single ridge that divides into two ridges
    Short ridge, or independent ridge – a ridge that commences, travels a short distance and then ends
    Island – a single small ridge inside a short ridge or ridge ending that is not connected to all other ridges
    Ridge enclosure – a single ridge that bifurcates and reunites shortly afterward to continue as a single ridge
    Spur – a bifurcation with a short ridge branching off a longer ridge
    Crossover or bridge – a short ridge that runs between two parallel ridges
    Delta – a Y-shaped ridge meeting
    Core – a U-turn in the ridge pattern

    • Thanks David – I’d not considered that ngrams could be biased against the common tongue by virtue of the volume of freely available science writings and special meanings of words therein. I’ll remember this next time I’m leaning on ngrams to make a point at work!


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