English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

A minute is 60 seconds. Something 'minute' is small, minor, perhaps short.

Now, what about the minutes of a meeting or a session? As in, its written protocol? Are they called that because:

  • The minutes are short or brief compared to everything that was actually spoken?
  • The minutes are sometimes prefixed by the time within the meeting?
  • Something having to do with the morphology etymology of the word 'minute'?
share|improve this question
up vote 3 down vote accepted

In Classical Latin, scribes wrote letters in capital or block script -- just as they appear on monuments. It wasn't till the Middle Ages that what we now call Lower Case letters appeared. This developed in monasteries, the main repository of Latin learning and letters during that period. To save space, ink and parchment, the letters were written in "Minute Script" (i.e. my'NYOOT), so called because they were small and compact. The same minute script came to be used to record meetings, before even more efficient shorthand systems were developed. Thus the origin of the meaning of "minutes" is neither that a minute-by-minute record was made, nor that the record was limited or sketchy. While the idea of a concise summary did evolve, the origin was "minuta scriptura" -- small writing.

share|improve this answer

The OED gives meaning

III. A summary document; a note or memorandum.

  1. a. Originally: a rough draft of a document or letter; a note or memorandum giving instructions to an agent, servant, etc. Later: a record or brief summary of events or transactions; spec. (usu. in pl.) the record of the proceedings at a meeting of an assembly, society, committee, etc.

It does not further explain the origin of this meaning, unless "summary" is supposed to be the clue; But I wonder if the meaning 3b. above: "†b. A small particular, a detail. Obs." is relevant.

share|improve this answer

etymonline refers to it as:

"record of proceedings," c.1710, perhaps from Latin minuta scriptura "rough notes," literally "small writing;" see minute (adj.). Minute "rough draft" is attested from c.1500.

From this, I would infer that minutes are called like that due to its conciseness (as in size) in comparison to what happened during the meeting. This does in no way mean that is is less detailed, but that only the most important parts are recorded.

For instance, businessdictionary defines minutes as:

Permanent, formal, and detailed (although not verbatim) record of business transacted, and resolutions adopted, at a firm's official meetings such as board of directors, manager's, and annual general meeting (AGM). Once written up (or typed) in a minute book and approved at the next meeting, the minutes are accepted as a true representation of the proceedings they record and can be used as prima facie evidence in legal matters.

For example, wikipedia mentions:

Where a tally is included, it is sufficient to record the number of people voting for and against a motion (or abstaining), but requests by participants to note their votes by name may be allowed.

As long as we know what happened in this vote, who voted is not relevant and is not recorded in the minutes, unless requested.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.