Monday, July 14, 2008

Minimus, minimi

The clue for 44-Across in the April 30 New York Times crossword — "Little fingers or toes" — has brought me two new words. Minimus is the name for the smallest finger or toe. The plural is minimi (MIN-ih-my). Having typed these words, I'm not sure that I will ever use them again.

In 1991, medical student John Phillips borrowed Mother Goose's little piggies to create Latin names for the toes. They seem not to have caught on. For more on the naming of parts, Wikipedia's article on the ring finger is amazing reading.

It makes sense that we have a richer vocabulary for fingers than toes. Fingers exhibit greater variety across the set of ten than toes do (each toe, bigger or smaller, is just another piggy). Fingers are, we might say, closer to us, right under our eyes and noses (and sometimes in them). Fingers are expressive, so it makes sense that we are more expressive about them.

[The April 30 crossword? A subscription to the Times crossword brings an extra month's worth of older puzzles from the archive. Thus some catching up.]

comments: 0