minimis, minimus = 'minimum,' 'minimal'

Thu Sep 29 01:02:00 UTC 2011

        It's also a standard phrase in American law, and your misspelling is frequent.  It does refer to things that are trivial or inconsequential, although there are cases where even a de minimis amount is sufficient.  The concept in such cases is not that a de minimis amount meets some threshold, but that any nonzero amount at all, no matter how small, will suffice.  In general, however, the rule in American law is "De minimis non curat lex" (the law does not concern itself with trifles).  There's an old limerick that makes the point well:

There once was a lawyer named Rex
Who was sadly deficient in sex.
Arraigned for exposure,
He replied with composure,
"De minimis non curat lex."

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Victor Steinbok
Sent: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 8:34 PM
Subject: Re: minimis, minimus = 'minimum,' 'minimal'

FarLex has entries for both "de minimus" and "de minimis", with "de
minimus" gathering a rather long list of synonyms, but "de minimis"
getting a full definition. To make things more interesting, the
definition is

> Latin for "of minimum importance" or "trifling." Essentially it refers
> to something or a difference that is so little, small, minuscule, or
> tiny that the law does not refer to it and will not consider it. In a
> million dollar deal, a $10 mistake is de minimis.

That's fine, but that's not how it's interpreted by those who /don't
know Latin/ when the read European statutes (or US statutes, for that
matter). The usual interpretation is nearly the opposite--the smallest
/non-trivial/ amount, i.e., a legal threshold.


On 9/28/2011 8:22 PM, Victor Steinbok wrote:
> "De minimus" is a standard expression in European law and in
> international law--not so much in the US (see exception below). Much
> of the time it's a noun, although it originally was used as a
> modifier--mostly "de minimus amount". Graham certainly has some
> familiarity with international law and admiralty law, so he certainly
> has exposure to the expression (he was a top Navy JAG lawyer).
> Bloomberg's is the only usage that looks unusual to me. I find it
> highly unlikely that there is any correlation with being Republican.
> Besides, Bloomberg is a RINO if there ever was one. He switched
> parties because he had a better chance to get through the primaries as
> a Republican. Then, in his last term, he delisted himself from
> Republican rolls and re-registered as an independent. He was never
> much of a Democrat, but possibly even less of a Republican. You are
> also assuming Rogers's party affiliation from his position--in fact, a
> number of Duke Energy executives are Democrats, although the majority
> are Republicans.
> You also might have misheard Graham. Here's the transcript:
>> Winning the war on terror to me is as follows.  Where there is will
>> to fight and defeat extremism, it begins to obtain capacity, that
>> when we withdraw, that the military forces left behind will be de
>> minimus and that the people in the country in question will have the
>> capacity militarily to defeat extremism:  When a politician embraces
>> a moderate thought, they don't get killed; they win the election.
> But here's another Republican using "de minimus" (not in a way that
> I've heard before)
>> Lindsey Graham voted "aye" on the Judiciary Committee and on the
>> floor to replace David Souter with the "Wise Latina". Now, after a
>> milder, but no less effective questioning exposing Elena Kagan's lack
>> of qualifications for the U.S. Supreme Court, John McCain's protege
>> will again vote "aye", so de minimus does Graham view the
>> consequences of the election of conservative Republican senators.
> I found a tertiary source that identifies the following quote:
>> If they raised taxes on billionaires and millionaires, it adds a de
>> minimus amount of money to the Treasury to pay off the debt
> The source claims the line came from NYT, but I have not been able to
> find it in the NYT. No attribution--perhaps that's the Graham line you
> heard.
> "De minimus" does show up in US tax law (specifically, in reference to
> benefits--I found several comments that involved "de minimus" WRT
> benefits topics). Hence:
>> I've heard through the grapevine (which is not reliable) that it
>> costs the IRS $100 to process a 5330 - therefore, many have suggested
>> that the IRS would not go crazy trying to find these types of
>> returns. I think this lost interest on participant contributions
>> revolution (in the past 5 or 10 years, I mean) has definitely created
>> the need for a de minimis tax threshhold, but no such luck yet.
> It's just the minimum legally required amount, so I don't see any
> problems.
> VS-)
> On 9/28/2011 7:28 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>   Last week I heard Sen. Lindsey Graham of SC say that we had to reduce
>> something to the "minimus." Just now I heard NYC Mayor Bloomberg tell CNN
>> that "The fact is that the number of people crossing the border illegally is
>> at the minimus number."
>> Think it's just me? Think it's just plain "minimus"? CNN, Apr. 30
>>  :
>> "JIM ROGERS, CEO, DUKE ENERGY: First of all, and most importantly, the
>> national grid of the United States relies on just a de minimus amount of
>> oil. So the movement in the oil price really doesn't affect the price of
>> electricity very much."
>> All three speakers are Republicans. Presumably, a confudiation of the legal
>> "de minimis" is at the root of it all.
>> JL

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