By Ray Hudson
I called a restaurant recently to order take-out. They answered the phone with the question: “Can I put you on hold for a moment?” And without waiting for an answer I was listening to the ‘Music On Hold’ hit parade. As the third tune rolled by I began to wonder, how long is a moment anyway?
According the font of all knowledge, the Internet, there is a precise answer. In the middle ages an hour was 40 minutes, and each minute was divided into 40 moments each of which is 90 seconds. It’s not a long time to be subjected to telephone music, if indeed it is only one moment. But wait, the Hebrew calendar called a moment a rega, and it is shorter, much shorter. 5/144th of a second. Now that’s a wait-time I can handle.
Scientist and poet Miroslav Holub suggested that the true moment should be the average length of time it takes to read a line of verse.
Wait a second, or wait a sec, give me a second, those are time commands that don’t mean the 1/60th of minute. It really means stop or wait – until I’m ready for you.
Upping the ante, let’s move on to ‘wait a minute.’ Again, it’s a request for an interval of time that is not defined. Some define it as the length of time it takes for your patience to wear out. Another source offers this definition: 1) telling someone to be patient while you think, 2) it’s a phrase to interrupt someone like, just wait a minute (stop) they don’t mean stop, then continue after 60 seconds, 3) used for expressing surprise – wait a moment, you’re not saying…..
‘Jiffy’ is another term for an ill-defined period as in “I will be back in a jiffy.” meaning ‘I’ll be right back’ (whatever that means). It could mean a minute or two, or days or weeks. First recorded in 1785, the word’s origin is unclear, though one suggestion is that it was for the interval of a lightning strike. The earliest technical definition for jiffy was by an American chemist, Gilbert Lewis (1875–1946). He proposed a unit of time called the “jiffy” be equal to the time it takes to travel one centimeter in a vacuum (approximately) 33.3564 picoseconds.
The extended put-off comes in the form of a wonderful Spanish word, ‘mañana’, which literally means ‘tomorrow.’ In the common language it generally means ‘later’ without defining how long a period of time must pass before mañana has arrived or expired.
We’ve all used the phrases, ‘one at a time’ to direct people. We mean one after another; once upon a time (somewhere in an undefined time particular to identifying when a fairly tale occurred, like when tax collectors were your friend); working against time or time is against us (working within a period of time to finish something, difficult to achieve within that time period – like getting my taxes filed).
We use the word time to describe a simultaneous event, at the same time at the same time (everyone spoke at the same time), and if you are behind the times you’re old fashioned (has anyone seen my fortrel suit?).
Finally, when we’re out of time, it doesn’t mean that everything in the universe must end for some arbitrary reason (unless earth has to be demolished to make way for an intergalactic throughway). It does mean that an allotted time has run out… like my patience, waiting for the restaurant’s ‘moment’ to pass so I can place my order. Never mind, I’ll make the time, drive down to the restaurant, order from a human – no phone involved, and return, in a jiffy, with my order of Moo Goo Gai Pan and Taco sauce. I’ve always got time for that.
Have a good week, and before you know it, we’ll be back because, time flies when you’re having fun!