I ask only about mien's definition of 'A person’s look or manner', and not the Yao people.

OED: Etymology: Probably a merging of two words of distinct origins:
(i) shortened < demean n.;
(ii) a loan < Middle French, French mine countenance, facial expression (13th cent. in Old French in phrase faire mines to grimace, make faces), appearance, manner, air (late 15th cent.), probably < Breton min muzzle (see below).

I heed the Etymological Fallacy, but is the English spelling of mien strange or startling? If it's shortened or derived from 'demean' (as OED says above), would 'mean' be more natural?
For example, modern French still retains the spelling « mine » to mean 'appearance, look'.

  • 1
    Never heard of it before. I would associate mien with demeano(u)r, perhaps the two are related.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 29, 2015 at 17:53
  • 3
    It is paradoxical that this sense in French is spelled mine, which in English is the pronoun, which in French would be le mien, or la mienne.
    – WS2
    Mar 29, 2015 at 18:00
  • @WS2 +1. I missed that insightful observation. Thank you for sharing!
    – user50720
    Mar 29, 2015 at 18:17
  • I wouldn't be surprised it people simply confused the French mine and mien when the word was borrowed, and adopted the wrong spelling (perhaps even because it looked more foreign). Strange things happen when words jump across languages.
    – Barmar
    Mar 31, 2015 at 5:59
  • Also, strange spellings sometimes happen due to fashion. Like shoppe, which became popular because it looks archaic or French, and lent an air of charm or quaintness to the establishment.
    – Barmar
    Mar 31, 2015 at 6:01

1 Answer 1


Every word in English is spelled the way it is because somebody spelled it that way at some point, and other people followed suit. There is no governing body that decides these things like in the French language. Words are made up all the time, taken from other languages all the time, and because English is spoken so broadly, imported from other regional English dialects all the time.

  • 2
    This doesn't answer the question, which was about a specific word. If you don't know the answer, why not just leave a comment?
    – herisson
    Jan 25, 2016 at 1:47

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