Have you ever wondered if there’s a connection between the two meanings of second? It means both ‘a sixtieth of a minute’ and ‘coming after the first’. Also, the two meanings of minute, ‘a sixtieth of an hour’ and ‘very small’. Well the fact is, they ARE connected.
When the hour was divided into sixty parts, the division was known in Medieval Latin as pars minuta prima, literally ‘the first small part’ or the prime division, of the hour, eventually becoming just minute. Note, at this time minute meant small, as we still use it today. When the minute was divided into sixty parts, it became known as the second division, or the second, from the Latin secundus ‘following, next in time or order’. The Egyptian mathematician Ptolemy may have come up with these terms, he used them in his work.
So, our time units minute and second came from their original meanings ‘small’ and ‘following’ and we still use those meanings too.
Minute, pronounced differently, means ‘very small’. Minutia ‘a small detail’ comes from the same source. Minutes taken at a meeting can be traced back to Latin scriptura minuta ‘small writing’ from the notion of a rough copy. A minute steak is cooked very quickly, and a minute gun is fired at one-minute intervals, especially at a funeral.
To play second fiddle means to have a less important role than another. It comes from the orchestra, where the most prominent member was the musician who played lead violin. However, he might have a second string to his bow – which means an alternative course of action in case one fails.
Second nature is a habit that has become instinctive, and a second honeymoon is a romantic holiday taken by a couple who have been married for some time. A second opinion is advice from a second expert to make sure the advice received from the first is correct.
Second sight is clairvoyance, or the ability to see future events. To second-guess something is to predict or anticipate in advance. On second thoughts implies a change of opinion after having considered something again.