The Turkish Etymology for Mini

I just came across a clipping from Günaydın newspaper, dated 25 December 1968, on Geçmiş Gazete. The article claims that a young Turkish woman studying in the UK in 1959 by the name of Meral Tüfekçi is the source for the name of the iconic make of the British Motor Company’s Austin and Morris: the Mini.

The title reads: 'A Turkish girl popularized the word 'Mini' around the world'

The title reads: ‘A Turkish girl popularized the word ‘Mini’ around the world’

According to the newspaper, a story published in a British newspaper by Robert Blacke accounted for the naming of the Mini car. The story goes, Meral Tüfekçi was visiting Earls Court Motor Show (now renamed the British International Motor Show) in 1959 when she exclaimed ‘ne mini mini’ (literally, how tiny) in Turkish upon seeing the world’s smallest car. When the executives of the Austin Morris company heard her, they chose it as the new model’s name. The dates cited by the Wikipedia entry on the Mini makes the story plausible:

The Mini was marketed under BMC’s two main brand names, Austin and Morris until 1969, when it became a marque in its own right. The name Mini was first used domestically by BMC for Austin’s version in 1961, when to match the Morris version the Austin Seven was rebranded as the Austin Mini,[24] somewhat to the surprise of the Sharp’s Commercials car company (later known as Bond Cars), who had been using the name Minicar for their three-wheeled vehicles since 1949. However, legal action was somehow averted,[25] and BMC used the name “Mini” thereafter.

Morris Mini-Minor 1959

Morris Mini-Minor 1959

However, the Wikipedia gives another etymology:

The word minor is Latin for “lesser”; so an abbreviation of the Latin word for “least” – minimus – was used for the new even smaller car. One name proposed for the Austin version was Austin Newmarket. Austin dealers sold their almost identical car as an Austin Seven (sometimes written as SE7EN in early publicity material – the ‘7’ the letter V rotated left so it approximated the number 7), which recalled the popular small Austin 7 of the 1920s and 1930s.


The OED entry also favors the Latin combination form -mini rather than Mine Tüfekçi’s ‘mini mini’ as the etymology of the cute marque:

Etymology: Short for Mini Minor, the proprietary name of a distinctive small car first made in Britain in 1959 < mini- comb. form + Minor (in Morris Minor, the proprietary name of another car made by the same manufacturer).

Compare earlier, apparently isolated, use designating a motorcycle:

1953 Power & Pedal May 18/1 This ‘Mini’ [sc. Minimotor, a 49cc cyclemotor] a machine of very real performance.

A distinctive make of small British car. A proprietary name in the United Kingdom.

[1959 Autocar 28 Aug. 85/2 There is good reason to believe that the new Austin 7s and Mini-Minors will be able to better..the remarkable records of the two small car series after which they are named.]
1960 Autocar 24 June 998/1 My car, not a Mini, has a magnetic sump plug for the gear-box.
Mini cars and miniskirts

Mini cars and miniskirts

The definition of mini mini and minicik [diminutive of mini (lit., tiny)] is ‘tiny, very small’ in James W. Redhouse, A Turkish and English Lexicon, Shewing in English the Significance of the Turkish Terms (Constantinople, 1890). However, Nişanyan Etmyological Dictionary gives a French etymology for the Turkish word mini, and notes the resemblance with mini mini:

~ Fr/İng mini small ~ Lat minus, minor- smaller, lesser << Indo-European *mi-nu- < Indo-European *mei-2 small

● The word mini etek [lit., miniskirt] entered the Turkish language in 1960s. * The resemblance with the Turkish idiom ‘mini mini’ that has the same meaning seems arbitrary.

Since I couldn’t find the source of the Turkish newspaper article (the newspaper piece by a certain Mr. Robert Blacke), the Turkish etymology may be an asparagas (Turkish for hoax). Whether the young Turkish student exclaiming in the 1959 Earls Court Motor Show is a true story has yet to be proven.

The etymology of miniskirts, on the other hand, is easier to trace. Read from the OED:

British footballer George Best measures the hemline of a Sixties model.

British footballer George Best measures the hemline of a Sixties model

mini, n.2

Etymology: Shortened < miniskirt n. or minidress n. Compare maxi n., micro n.2

A miniskirt or minidress.

1966 Guardian 27 July 6/4 The new thing about the Scherrer mini is that it flares.
1967 Punch 4 Jan. 1/1 The lengths of female laid bare by minis.

The French etymology of miniskirt from CNRTL is as follow:

MINI, adj. et subst. invar.

A. −Adj. et subst. inv. [En parlant d’un vêtement] Qui est très court. Anton. maxi.Maxi tunique ras du cou sans manches, à porter en robe mini (Elle, 27 janv. 1969, p.46).Manteau mini renard, robe (…) mini sur maxi-bottes (Elle, 25 janv. 1971, p.62, col. 4).

B. −Subst. fém. ou masc. inv.
1. −Subst. fém. [En parlant d’une jupe, d’une robe] Jupe, robe s’arrêtant à mi-cuisse. Marcel Boussac n’a pas su se tenir à l’avant-garde. Négligeant trop les enquêtes de motivations et le marketing, il a contribué à produire des marchandises traditionnelles qui ne correspondaient plus aux goûts des millions d’adeptes de la «mini» puis de la «maxi» de ces dernières années (Le Nouvel Observateur, 14 déc. 1970, p.22, col. 3):
−. … on commence à rencontrer souvent la silhouette de Bonnie, béret noir sur cheveux raides, jupe à mi-mollet du côté de Greenwich Village, de King’s Road et à Saint-Germain-des-Prés, là où s’expérimente la mode d’avant-garde et où la maxi-jupe concurrence désormais la mini. L’Express, 22 janv. 1968, p.64, col. 3.
2.Subst. masc. Mode très courte. Être belle en mini; le mini se vend bien. Si vous avez un léger regret pour le mini, rassurez-vous, la nouvelle mode fera de vous une femme élégante, amincie par la silhouette seyante, svelte et gracile de cette saison (Jours de France, 1ersept. 1970, no819, p.43, col. 1).

For now, the origin of minis seems to be (the) English.

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