What does “minish” mean?


by Shawn Brasseaux

The Authorized Version uses this “hard-to-understand,” archaic word twice:

  • Exodus 5:19: “And the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case, after it was said, Ye shall not minish ought from your bricks of your daily task.”
  • Psalm 107:39: “Again, they are minished and brought low through oppression, affliction, and sorrow.”

Obviously, we can take a guess that “minish” must be connected to diminish. The word “diminish” is actually composed of archaic “minish” and obsolete “diminue” (“speak disparagingly or critically of”). Two Latin terms that influenced our English language here are “minutia” (“smallness”) and “deminuere” (“lessen”). We can also add that the French word “menu(i)sier”—also derived from Latin—originated the variant “minish.”

That Hebrew word “gara”(“gawrah”) rendered “minish” appears elsewhere in the Exodus passage, also translated “diminish:”

  • Exodus 5:8: “And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God.”
  • Exodus 5:11: “Go ye, get you straw where ye can find it: yet not ought of your work shall be diminished.”

Why translate the same word two different ways? Our 1611 translators were avoiding a stilted translation. They did not always have to render the same word the same way every time. To wit, they were making their work sound less monotonous or repetitious. Sometimes, they conveyed that Hebrew word as “diminish,” other times “minish,” still other times “taken away” (Numbers 36:4), or “clipped” (Jeremiah 48:37), or “maketh small” (Job 36:7), or “abated” (Leviticus 27:18). While the contexts are different, the overall concept remains the same.

As for the excerpt from Psalm 107, look at the previous statement (verse 38): “He blesseth them also, so that they are multiply greatly; and suffereth not their cattle to decrease.” After this period of prosperity, they are “minished” (verse 39), cursed, lessened, “brought low.”  Here is how we can use context clues to further accentuate our understanding of less familiar words.

Also see:
» Can you explain “penury?”
» What is “cleanness of teeth” in Amos 4:6?
» What does “several” mean in the King James Bible?