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A Word A Day — de minimis

August 19, 2012

Word of the Day

  • de minimis
  • audio pronunciation
  • \dee-MIN-uh-mus\


: lacking significance or importance : so minor as to merit disregard

Critics complain that the new policy merely introduces de minimis modifications and does nothing to amend the real faults in the system.

"Williams told council members that a letter written by borough solicitor Kenelm Shirk III in response to her initial complaint described peeling paint and other problems as 'de minimis,' or trivial." — From an article by Kimberly Marselas in Intelligencer Journal/New Era (Lancaster, Pennsylvania), April 11, 2012


Proponents of readable prose over jargon and legalese might argue that the last thing 20th-century American jurisprudence needed was another Latin term. Yet here we have a legal term that entered English only around 1950. Perhaps we should clarify: the legal doctrine of "de minimis non curat lex" ("the law does not concern itself with trifling matters") has been around for a while, but use of "de minimis" on its own is relatively recent. At first, the shortened phrase was simply used to refer to the legal doctrine itself ("the de minimis rule"). Then it came to be used more broadly as an adjective ("de minimis contacts with the defendant"). Finally, "de minimis" leaked out of the courtroom and into the world at large.

From Merriam-Webster Online at

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Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.