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Smallness everywhere


Hans Weber

The Old Greek adjective mikrós has got a second life in our modern languages, as a prefixoid, that is a kind of prefix, micro-, mikro-, conveying the idea of smallness. However, it has got a competitor, the prefixoid mini-, whose sound-structure is more expressive. – Together, micro- and mini- account for well over a thousand neologisms: microwave, micro-climate, microfilm, etc. / minivan, minigolf, minijob, etc. They belong to the fast growing group of words typical of today’s international language comprising part of Europe plus the English, Iberian and French speaking worlds. Most of these words are “uniform”: microcosmos, microcosmo, microcosme, Mikrokosmos…, while others are translated, but easily recognizable as the ‘same“ word: mini-jupe (the word that is said to have started the “mini-craze” about 1965), mini-skirt, minigonna, minifalda.
Micro- and mini- are not synonym. Mini- is more popular and expanding rapidly, whereas micro- is felt to be the opposite of maxi- and belongs rather to the scientific and technical vocabulary: microchip, micro-organism, micro-finance. Ask an expert to tell you the difference between micro-computer and minicomputer. And we can easily imagine a “mini microwave”, a gadget meant for just one cup. […]

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