• 3-minute read
  • 25th December 2019

Word Choice: Mince vs. Mints

Happy Christmas! Our present to you? Some homophones! What do you mean you wanted a puppy? Oh well. For now, all we have is vocabulary advice on two words you might see at this time of year: mince and mints.

So, what do they mean? How can you avoid errors when using them? And should you be serving mince pies or mints pies at the Christmas dinner table?

Mincemeat and Mince (Chopped Up Fruit or Meat)

In the run up to Christmas, you may have had a mince pie or two. The ‘mince’ in these pies is actually mincemeat, a sweet, spicy mixture of dried fruits:

We spooned the mincemeat into the pies.

However, there is no meat in mincemeat! This may seem ironic given that ‘mince’ by itself usually refers to finely chopped meat:

Spaghetti bolognese is made with beef mince.

But this is because ‘meat’ used to be a term for all food, not just animal flesh, so ‘minced meat’ was simply ‘chopped food’ in the past.

Mince pies!
Mince pies!
(Photo: darianstibbe/Pixabay)

As a verb, meanwhile, mince has two distinct meanings:

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  1. To cut food into fine pieces (e.g. We minced the beef for dinner)
  2. To walk with small, dainty steps (e.g. He minced across the room)

Finally, we have a much older usage of ‘mince’ that referred to using polite language. This is where the phrase ‘don’t mince your words’ comes from, which means ‘don’t moderate your words’.

Mints (Plural of Mint)

As a noun, ‘mints’ is the plural of ‘mint’. In a festive context, this will usually refer to the herb used to flavour things (e.g. peppermint). You might have a mint candy cane at Christmas, for example.

Minty treats.
Minty treats.

But a ‘mint’ can also be somewhere that makes money, in particular coins:

The Royal Australian Mint produces all our coins.

This second sense of ‘mint’ has a related verb use (i.e. to produce coins), which would become ‘mints’ in the present tense third person. It can also be used as an adjective meaning ‘as new’ (e.g. mint condition), but this form of the word is never spelled with an ‘s’ at the end.

Summary: Mince or Mints?

These words sound similar, but you’ll only want one of them in a pie:

  • At Christmas, mince usually refers to mincemeat. This is a sweet, spicy mixture of dried fruits used to fill mince pies, but does not contain meat!
  • In non-Christmas settings, mince as a noun refers to finely chopped meat. As a verb, it can mean either ‘cut something finely’ or ‘walk daintily’.
  • Mints is usually the plural form of ‘mint’ (a herb or peppermint sweet).

We hope this has helped you understand ‘mince’ and ‘mints’! But if you’re going to correct a family member today, please do so with festive cheer in your heart. Or maybe leave it for Boxing Day!

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