"sixtieth part of an hour or degree of a circle," late 14c., from Old French minut (13c.) or directly from Medieval Latin minuta "minute of time; short note," from Latin minuta "a small portion or piece," noun use of fem. of minutus "little, small, minute," past participle of minuere "to lessen, diminish" (from PIE root *mei- (2) "small").
In Medieval Latin, pars minuta prima "first small part" was used by mathematician Ptolemy for one-sixtieth of a circle, later one-sixtieth of an hour (next in order was secunda minuta, which became second (n.)). German Minute, Dutch minuut also are from French. Used vaguely for "short time" from late 14c. As a measure expressing distance (travel time) by 1886. Minute hand "hand which indicates the minutes on a clock or watch" is attested from 1726. Minute-jumper (1890) was the name for the kind of electric clock on which the hands move only at the end of each minute.