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Pronunciation: min-strêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A wandering medieval musical entertainer, a troubadour. 2. A performer in a musical show that caricaturizes African Americans. 3. Any poet, musician, or singer.

Notes: This word hasn't quite shaken off the smell of racism lent it by the old minstrel shows in the US. The occupation of a minstrel is a minstrelsy, and since today's word may also be used as a verb, it provides another noun for the same occupation, minstrelling. The adjective minstrelly can refer to anything like a minstrel.

In Play: This word may be freely used for any traveling singer: "Amanda Lynn began her career as minstrel singer working cafes and restaurants along the Eastern seaboard." But even when speaking of famous African Americans, this word still bears the taste of racism in the US: "Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson began his career in a minstrel show, moved up to vaudeville, then made motion pictures."

Word History: Today's Good Word was minstral in Middle English, from Old French menestrel "servant, entertainer", from Latin ministerialis, the adjective for ministerium "an administrative office, service, work". This word was based on minister "a servant, subordinate, member of staff", frim PIE mei(n)- "small" + -teros "more", a comparative suffix. We see the footprint of mei(n)- in Sanskrit miyate "diminishes, declines", Greek meion "smaller", Latin minus, minor "small", Russian men'she "smaller, less", and Breton minvik "minutes". It may have also gone into the making of Russian melkii "tiny, trivial" and Czech mělký "tiny, trivial".(Now let's thank our old friend and frequent contributor Tony Bowden of London for spotting today's controversial Good Word and sharing it with us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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