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We live in interesting times in which a corporation is considered to be a person. Since corporations do not die nor can they be executed or imprisoned, corporations can be considered immortal. Politicians and Supreme Court judges seem to worship these immortals, asking them to bestow financial favors upon them. As immortals, corporations accrue a greater and greater share of the nation’s wealth which is then passed on to be enjoyed by real people who feel that they are entitled to this wealth by accident of birth. Corporations as persons, of course, have religious beliefs which are felt to be superior. As immortal persons, corporations, like the European medieval lords, feel they have the right to control government and to dictate the intimate details of other peoples’ (i.e. non-corporate) lives. Let’s look at some of the words which might be related to the new feudal age in which we live.


The roots of the English word “person” stretch back into the ancient Greek and Roman theater in which “persona” referred to the mask or false face which was worn by actors to portray their roles in the plays. The Latin “persona” evolved into the Old French “persone” which was then adopted by English as “person” in the early thirteenth century. By the mid-fifteenth century, “person” also referred to corporate entities.


The word “corporation” appears in English in the mid-fifteenth century referring to “persons united in a body for some purpose.” The word is from the Late Latin noun “corporationem” which is based on the Latin verb “corporare” meaning to embody. It became a legal term in English beginning in the 1610s.


About 1400, the word “royalty” emerged in English referring to the “office or position of a sovereign.” English borrowed the term from the Old French “roíalte” which had evolved from the Vulgar Latin “*regalitatem.” By the late fifteenth century “royalty” had taken on the sense of “prerogatives or rights granted by a sovereign to an individual or corporation.”


Minions, people who have unimportant jobs or who are servile underlings, were popularized with the movie Despicable Me. According to one etymology, “minion” entered English from Middle French “mignon” which meant “a favorite or darling” and when used as an adjective it meant “dainty, pleasing, favorite.” Going farther back in time, the Old French “mignot” meant “pretty, attractive, dainty, gracious, affectionate.” The original use of minion in English was in reference to those who served nobles or monarchs as their favorite servants. It is from this that minion took on the meaning of a fawning, servile attendant.

There is an alternative etymology, which attempts to tie “minion” to the Old Irish “min” meaning “tender, soft.”

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Originally posted to Cranky Grammarians on Sat May 17, 2014 at 08:22 AM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Your opening paragraph (17+ / 0-)

    is brilliant.

    I think the Supreme Court judges need lessons not only in etymology, but in basic definitions of English words.

    Or maybe they're using words like 'person' and 'corporation' correctly since they speak 'Murican English (those two words together feel like an oxymoran).

  •  In modern French... (17+ / 0-)

    ..."personne" is used as a negative pronoun, for example "Je ne connais personne" (I know no one).

    Another great diary, Ojibwa!

    There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

    by slksfca on Sat May 17, 2014 at 08:43:10 AM PDT

  •  I have a vague memory of a rule (11+ / 0-)

    that required that a corporation could only exist (live) until the last grandchild of Queen Victoria died.

    •  Non charitable trust not limited liability company (6+ / 0-)

      In English law at least, that was the position. You could not set up a trust, for non charitable purposes, which has a perpetual existence. Such a trust can last for 80 years or you have to limit it by reference to lives in being. As Queen Victoria had lots of descendants, the lives of the last of her grandchildren had a reasonable chance of preserving a trust for as long as possible.

      As I am working from 40 year old memories, I may be wrong in detail.

      There is no limitation on how long a limited liability company can exist.

      There are also forms of corporation older than limited liability companies.

      A Bishop of the Church of England is a corporation sole. That means he owns the assets of his diocese, but not as an individual. Those assets pass on to the next Bishop and so on indefinitely.

      Local government bodies, most notably the older cities like London, have the city government informally described as a corporation. The Corporation of London has existed since early times. From the Wikipedia article on the City of London Corporation.

      There is no surviving record of a charter first establishing the corporation as a legal body, but the city is regarded as incorporated by prescription, meaning that the law presumes it to have been incorporated because it has for so long been regarded as such even in the absence of written documentation (see, e.g., Magna Carta's proclamation that "the city of London shall have/enjoy its ancient liberties").[4] The corporation's first recorded royal charter dates from around 1067, when William the Conqueror granted the citizens of London a charter confirming the rights and privileges that they had enjoyed since the time of Edward the Confessor. Numerous subsequent royal charters over the centuries confirmed and extended the citizens' rights.[5]

      There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

      by Gary J on Sat May 17, 2014 at 11:12:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Scholarship has moved on a bit: (8+ / 0-)

    attempts to connect minion with Early Irish min 'soft' and Welsh mwyn 'soft, easy, pleasant', or with Old High German minna 'love', are now pretty generally rejected in favor of the derivation from Old French mignon.  

    This word occurs just once in Old French, as a term of abuse in Béroul’s Tristan, probably with homosexual connotations.  It reappears in Middle French in the first half of the 15th century in the sense 'lover', in 1446 as 'a favorite', referring to young men in the entourage of Charles VII, and ca. 1480 as a term of endearment.

    The original English sense, found around 1500, seems to have been 'a (usually male) favorite of a powerful person'.

    Middle French mignon was also an adjective 'pretty, delicate, graceful' (ca. 1480), and it’s likely that the word derives from an Old French *miñ- signifying gentleness.

    For the curious, my sources for the dated citations are the 3rd edition of the OED — the entry for minion was updated in 2002 — and La Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé, whose search interface is here.

  •  Personne morale and personne physique (6+ / 0-)

    Under French commercial law, a distinction is made between a personne morale ( a corporation) and a personne physique ( a human being).

    I believe the rationale is that a personne morale can be subject to laws, regulations, obligations etc as distinct from its owners who may have no liability. This means that a company and the operators of said company may be found guilty of crimes (i.e. the management,  Board of directors, employees), but that the owners, if not involved in the day to day running of the company are held harmless.

    Having said that, as France has no 1st Amendment, this means that French corporate Personnes are not free to meddle in politics, and that the legislature can impose any conditions that it wishes on corporate lobbying or politicking.

    I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

    by peterfallow on Sat May 17, 2014 at 10:20:30 AM PDT

  •  I do love etymology. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, RiveroftheWest, Aunt Pat

    I've often wondered if "minion" was in any way related to "dominion." Since my searches (cursory though they were) showed nothing, I've accepted that "minion" probably has nothing to do with "dominion" . . . But it's cool to see where it DOES come from.

    Thanks for an interesting diary, as always.

    Always follow the money.

    by Zaq on Sat May 17, 2014 at 01:25:02 PM PDT

  •  Hypocrite (5+ / 0-)

    comes from Greek hypokrites, an actor, literally "beneath a mask" -- one wearing a persona.

    Bello ne credite, Americani; quidquid id est, timeo Republicanos et securitatem ferentes.

    by Sura 109 on Sat May 17, 2014 at 03:30:04 PM PDT

  •  Regarding the self perpetuating crime (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, Aunt Pat, RiveroftheWest
    wealth which is then passed on to be enjoyed by real people who feel that they are entitled to this wealth by accident of birth.
    I recall a line from Chaucer:

    Gentylness is not to the gentyl born.

    Cash and a phony sense of entitlement may come by birthright but a worthy and benevolent soul is earned.

  •  Great post Ojibwa. Perhaps, it is time we (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, RiveroftheWest

    consider the possibility that some corporations and other institutions have achieved the status of living beings, or something so similar to it that we need not only a new word but a serious pause to consider new constitutional rules to figure out what balance of power we wish to achieve or perhaps we should more accurately say, "try to negotiate" with this new being while we still have some bargaining powers.

    In some ways these beings may be beyond our power to comprehend. I used to enjoy watching ant colonies when I was a child, and I would sometimes put sticks as obstacles to one of their paths to watch how they either adapted by changing the path to go around it, or get together a team to move the stick out of the way.

    One feeling that always struct me was none of these ants had the perceptual or cognitive powers to understand I was watching and doing experiments on them. Were there beings of the same sort watching us?

    Now we face the prospect that we are like grains of sand that nourish plants that have extended their root systems throughout our societies.

    A better metaphor may be cells of an organ, or body. A corporation can replace any one of, and over time every one of us but live on. The average cell of the human intestine lives only 30 days. So none of your existing intestinal cells from 10 years ago are still around.

    Just as no one from GM in in 1930 is still around. Unlike he human body, some corporations may be able to live for hundreds of reason. They seem to meet all of the requirements for living being taught in our introductory biology glasses. The can respond to the environment, the take in energy to maintain their structures in temporary defiance of the entropy, they can replicate, etc.

    So, now that they have free speech, unlimited rights to make campaign contributions, they can own property, make contracts, hire, and fire people, sue people,  how  long will it be before our SCOTUS gives them other Constitutional rights?

    So, Objibwa, your comments may be even  more poignant than you intended.

    The Global Strategy Director for what was then the largest multinational corporation in the world had become convinced that his corporations has not only achieved the status of a living being but had also achieved consciousness.

    He sponsored research at the university i worked at because the founder of our field had no desire to travel this strategy director convinced my to start flying over to Europe on holidays, to help him on another of his pet projects.

    He believed "the only sustainable competitive any corporation (or person) could attain was the ability to learn faster than their competitors." Our research was relevant to accelerated learning.

    One skeptic who worked about 15 level of management below the global director but who was still about 20 years older than I was at the time scoffed at the idea that we could have any impact what-so-ever on this global multinational corporations ability to learn. it had 222,000 employees, and an income over over $100 billion dollars.

    He told me with derision that I was not even like an ant trying to teach an elephant to change. Which caught me attention because of my childhood fascination with ants and question of whether there were beings as  metaphorically s far  beyond our imagination as I was to the ants.

    Then this fellow snorted and said, "No, I was not even like an ant trying to change an elephant, I was like a microbe in the intestine of an ant, trying to change an elephant." He laughed, and said, "You don't even know what and elephant is, and can not even possibly get its attention, and it does not even know or care that you exist." And he stormed out of the class room refusing to take my week long workshop.


    Humor Alert! No statement from this UID is intended to be true, including this one. Comments and Posts intended for recreational purposes only. Unauthorized interpretations may lead to unexpected results. This waiver void where prohibited.

    by HoundDog on Sun May 18, 2014 at 12:42:20 AM PDT

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