• minion •
min-yên • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A servile obsequious toady; a brown-noser or slavish sycophant. 2. A favorite, teacher's pet, someone's darling.
Notes: Even though we hear this word only rarely today, except in reference to the cute little cartoon characters, It comes to us with an abstract noun, minionism (or the even rarer minionship). The noun itself has been used as a verb, as to minion someone to your whims and fancies. I would recommend avoiding the suffix -ize; minionize changes the character of this otherwise lovely word too much.
In Play: Minion is used far more frequently in the first sense above than in the second: "When the boss arrived, surrounded by his minions and toadies, the meeting sailed far off its planned course." The second meaning is not far off the first, though, which keeps it viable: "The new finance officer, Gladys Friday, has become the president's minion and probably will get a big bonus and promotion this year."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a variant of mignon "petite and pretty", as in filet mignon. In French and Italian the digraph GN is pronounced [ny], as we see in such borrowed words as poignant, lasagna, and cognac. However, English prefers to spell this sound as NI, hence the shift to minion. The French word shares its origin with French minet "little darling", a term of affection often used to address children and kitties. This word was originally mignot which, for reasons that remain mysterious, became mignon in some parts of France. It is this word that English has borrowed several times and in various forms over the course of its history. (Today's Good Word came from a suggestion by our enduring friend Margie Sved, no one's minion though she is one of our favorites.)
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