Posted by: Jack Henry | July 2, 2020

Editor’s Corner: It’s been a minute!

Good morning and happy summer!

One of you recently asked me about the phrase “It’s been a minute.” No, we’re not talking about the 60-second minute on your clock, but the idiomatic phrase, which basically means “It’s been a long time,” or “It’s been a while.”

The first time I heard this, I was at the old coffee cart, and someone I hadn’t seen for a few months said, “Hey, Kara! It’s been a minute!” I was caught off guard, because I hadn’t heard this phrase before, but judging by the use and circumstance, I figured it out. Since then, I’ve heard it a lot, and it’s always from someone who hasn’t seen another person, or gone to a place, or done something…in a long time.

When I tried to find out where this phrase came from, I found song lyrics and sites I couldn’t visit because they are in the JHA “no-fly zone,” so I really don’t know exactly where it came from. I know it’s the name of Sam Sanders’s radio show on NPR, and Google tells us its “young and cool.” But the origin escapes me.

I found several references to a hot minute and a red-hot minute, which used to mean a very short time. The phrase hot minute is in text all the way back to 1847, but until the 1990s it meant fast. On English Stack Exchange, which I don’t always trust, they say that it changed to meaning “a long time” with The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song “One Hot Minute.”

Then there’s also a New York minute, which used to mean fast and still means fast. According to the Grammarist:

In a New York minute means right away, immediately, quickly and without hesitation. As you may suppose, in a New York minute is an American idiom, but it did not originate in New York City. Rather, the expression in a New York minute is a reflection of how people in other parts of the United States view New York. Compared to many areas of the country, New York City life is extremely fast paced.

The term in a New York minute was first recorded in the mid-twentieth century in Piney Woods, Texas, though exactly where in the Southern United States this phrase originated is unknown.

Johnny Carson, a popular American entertainer of the 1980s described a New York minute as “the time it takes for the light in front of you to turn green and the guy behind you to honk his horn.”

These observations of life in New York City are for the most part good-natured, and perhaps even carry a note of admiration.

I don’t know about admiration, but I do know that I’m not asking any of the young, cool kids what time it is! A happy and safe holiday to everyone!

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

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  1. The phrase ” it’s been a minute”
    What year did it start? Where did it come from?

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