Remember those fewLatin adjectives we have recently talked about? Their linguistic legacy turned out to be quite fertile as just five of them have given hundreds of terms in various contemporary languages. Here the rest three of them and some of the words they have produced in English.
Part 2: Major - Majority - Mayor - Maximum - Maxim - Minimum - Miniature - Minor - Minority - Plus - Nonplus - Nonplussed - Plurality - Pluralism
Latin: Magnus – maior, maius – maximus / English: large – larger – largest
Maior, the comparative form of the Latin irregular adjective magnus, could be directly seen in the English adjective major, meaning “larger in number or extent” as well as “greater in importance or rank.” That denotation has entered the language of the professional army indicating a military officer whose rank is higher than the one of a captain.
The word major branched out in different directions and found a place in various specialized vocabularies. In music, for instance, it gave the notion of an interval that is a half-tone greater than the minor. In the academic language, major is called the main subject chosen for studying at college or university. In the law terminology, with that term is described a person who has reached majority attaining the full rights of an adult.
Maior has even given the name of one of the famous Spanish Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea – Majorca (in Catalan - Mallorca).
One of the oldest meanings in English of majority dates from the 1550s and gets as close to the original Latin denotation of the word as it is possible. The prime sense of that noun described a condition of being greater and completely resonates one of the modern notions of a "number greater than half the total." That idea was adopted in politics where today a majority is called the number of the votes that exceeds the half of the full vote. As those votes give the right of ultimate political decisions, a majority is often referred to the party that has the greater number of deputies in the parliament.
From the 1560s onward, a majority is attested in the professional legal vocabulary as a term denoting a state of being of full age, a maturity. That status suggested the acquiring of full civil rights that include personal liberties and equal protection of the laws.
In the eighteenth century, by an ironical twist of the language, the word started to denote “the dead” giving the expression “join the majority” used as a euphemism for the die, just like the phrase “to pass the way.”
Mayor is a duty of a person who is elected to act as the head of a city or a town. The meaning of "one who is responsible for the government of community" came from old French (maire) and was first declared in written texts as early as the thirteen century. Before that, the word was used as a simple adjective denoting something as greater or superior to something else.
Maximum - Maxim
The superlative form of the Latin adjective magnus – maximus has preserved its original meaning until our modern times. Maximum, and other words containing that prefix (such as maximize or maximalist) still denote the greatest quantity or value attainable or attained. Maximum is often used to define an upper limit allowed and in the noun maximalist, that idea is still present as that is how we call people who insist on immediate and direct action in order to achieve the maximum of their goals.
The word maxim shows up in texts dating from the early fifteenth century. It is a shortened form of the Latin phrase “maxima propositio” meaning "the greatest among propositions." Today maxim is an axiom, a proverbial saying that reveals general truth accepted by all, like: “No gains without pains!”
Latin: Parvus – minor, minus – minimus / English: small – smaller – smallest
As an opposition of maximum, the superlative of the Latin adjective parvus (small) - minimum signifies the lowest possible number or the least attainable amount. Except as a noun, like, for example, in the expression “I need a minimum of two hours to get ready,” the word keeps its original use in English as an adjective, as in the phrase “There is no minimum height requirement.”
In the middle of the last century, minimum gave birth to the prefix mini- which appeared quite prolific in coining terms that describe something small of its kind. In 1948, the tiny economical three-wheeled car manufactured by Sharp’s Commercial Ltd (later renamed Bond Cars Limited) was named Bond Minicar, or simply minicar. That was the first original concept of a city car that could be used primarily in urban areas.
Another interesting use of the prefix mini- occurs in the fashion item known as a miniskirt. That is a skirt with a hemline long above the knees, extremely in vogue after 1960'. Although its fame of a swanky modern outfit, miniskirt was worn as early as the eighteenth century in China by a female group identified as the Duan Qun Miao women (literary meaning short skirt of Miao women).
A Chinese-language poem describes (in the upper left corner) how the Duan Qun Miaoare were named for their dress. The album was made during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
The idea of presenting something small also resides in the art term miniature. It denotes a very small sculpture, a portrait, or a painting and very often implys a copy of an art object of a much-reduced scale. The word could also be used to describe a painting in an illuminated book or manuscript. The relation between that term and the medieval practice to ornate ancient scripts with small images lays on the Latin verb miniare – "to paint red" (from the Latin noun minium – "red lead" used for producing a cinnabar color). Nevertheless, its origin seems closer to the Latin adjective parvus in its superlative form – minimus, as today miniature is still used as an adjective signifying the state of being (represented) on a small scale (like in the miniature dog breeds, for instance).
Just like the meaning of the comparative form of the Latin adjective magnus (maior - "larger") could be easily recognized, the sense of the comparative form of the Latin parvus (minor-"smaller") could be directly detected in the modern English language. The word acts as an adjective and denotes something that is inferior in size, degree, or importance.
As well as its cousin, minor had spread over various specialized vocabularies denoting different ideas. In music, for example, it shows a minor musical interval, scale, key, or mode. At university as such is called an academic subject that requires fewer courses than the major. Legally, it is a term for a person that has not reached majority yet, hence has not attained full civil rights.
Minor’s prime meaning of being of small or inferior has given one of the minority’s uses in the law language that describes a state of a human life preceding the moment of the attainment of majority.
In politics, with that term are usually called small groups and parties that form less than a half of the whole. As such they are opposed to the majority which, having more than the half of the votes, is in power of taking ultimate political decisions.
From the beginning of the previous century, minority acquires a narrower sense of representing subdivisions of society, based on racial, ethnic, religious, or other principles. They are generally considered as subordinate to the social and political powers of the dominant group and are often seen as a subject of discrimination.
Latin: Multus - -, plus – plurimus / English: much – more – most
The comparative form of the Latin adjective multus does not have any appearances in the ancient texts in masculine and feminine gender. Instead, the neuter form plus has covered some interesting notions. Its meaning as a noun denoting “a positive factor or quality, an advantage” was first registered in the late eighteenth century. Nevertheless, four centuries before that, the word surplus - from Latin superus-"over" and plus "more"– was freely used to indicate a remainder, an excess of a certain amount that is more than needed.
Other relatively modern signification of plus, dating from the beginning of the twentieth century, derives from placing it after a whole number to demonstrate the sense of “a little more” (for example a grade of C plus). Its use as a conjunction, replacing “and” in compound sentences originates from the middle of the same century.
As a term in mathematics, representing the notion of positive (and respectively minus of negative), plus points out a value that is above zero. As such it is used in the operations of addition as well as minus in the operations of subtractions.
Being widespread in the present day, plus (+) and minus (-) signs were, peculiarly, a medieval invention. In Europe, until the fifteenth century, the symbols generally used in algebra's operationes were the letters P, with a line (p̄), for plus and M, with a line (m̄), for minus. In the scientific texts of the end of the same century, (+) and (–) started gradually to replace the letters. The common explanation is that the tilde written over mtook over it while for the sign of plus a simplification of the Latin conjunction “et” meaning “and” and comparable to the ampersand (&) was taken.
Nonplus - Nonplussed
The Latin adjective multus in its comparative form in neuter is the father of the confusing, and often confused, English word nonplus. To bring someone to nonplus means to perplex him, to cause one to be at a loss as to what to say or think. Nonplus is literary a state where nothing more can be done or said, and it derives from the Latin expression "non plus" meaning “no more, no further.” Hence, the participe nonplused indicates someone who has reached an impasse in the argumentation of something and is not possible to say anything more. Therefore, nonplussed could be used as a synonym of perplexed.
Plurality - Pluralism
The stem of the modern English word plurality comes from the Latin adjective plus in Genitive case - pluris. It denotes a state of being plural, being more than one. From fourteenth century forward it is also used in a Church sense of “holding two or more offices at the same time.”
Plurality shares the same root with the English term pluralism – a situation in which people with various social, religious and other differences live together in a society where the voice of everyone is held in veneration.
As philosophical theory, pluralism occurs around 1880 and describes the belief that more than one ultimate principles exist.
Its political sense was developed in the early twentieth century where it was initially used as a concept opposing to the monolithic state power. The general modern notion of "toleration of diversity in society" is from 1930’.