Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, April 4, 2013



For years now I’ve been laughingly referring to myself as a minion. Officially, I’m one of two San Luis Obispo co-coordinators for the Central-Coastal Region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The tongue-tripping title has a causal relationship to my preference for the moniker, minion.

In my California baby-boomer upbringing, I understood that a minion was a devoted helper – usually of some nefarious villain. Nefarious villains aside, I’ve always had an affinity for the word. Imagine my surprise upon discovering that minion has a myriad of deliciously disparate meanings.

The OED devotes two thirds of a page to minion, which appeared first in English about the year 1500. Though most etymologists believe it came from the Old High German word minnja or minna, meaning love, others put its source in the Celtic combining form, min- or small, which was borrowed from Latin. The OED’s definitions (slightly abbreviated) for minion include:

a.    a beloved object, darling or favorite
b.    a lover, lady-love, mistress or paramour
c.     a dearest friend or favorite child, servant or animal
d.    one who owes everything to his patron’s favor & is ready to purchase its continuance by base compliances
e.    a form of address, meaning darling or dear one
f.      a hussy, jade, servile creature or slave
g.    a gallant, an exquisite
h.    an adjective meaning dainty, fine, elegant, pretty or neat

The last few OED meanings are really out there.

a.    a small kind of ordnance
b.    a type of peach
c.     a type of lettuce
d.    a typesetter’s term identifying a medium-size font

Some non-OED definitions compiled by the wonderful folks at Wordnik include:

a.    an obsequious follower or sycophant
b.    a pert or saucy girl or woman
c.     loyal servant of a powerful being

Good followers, I will keep my theories to myself in hopes that you will spout forth your own. How did this one simple word end up being its own antonym in multiple ways? And what’s up with the lettuce, anyway?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Wordnik, Etymonline,


  1. I've always loved the word minion. But I only thought it meant (d) the base compliances one. Little did I know I could have a Bacon, Minion and Tomato Sandwich. Or that minions could be dainty or gallant. (Although come to think of it "mignion" can be a term of endearment in French. I always learn something here, Mr. Monger!

  2. Howdy Anne,
    I'm thinking some local restaurant needs to embrace this idea of yours & start promoting the BMT.

  3. That is amazing! I always thought of minion as a somewhat derogatory title. I just might start using it as endearing nickname for the grandsons. Um…maybe not. I would probably get arrested for child abuse. What a wonderful “little” word.

  4. Hey Christine,
    May you & your minions successfully avoid arrest!