Have you ever wondered about the phrase "quicker than a New York minute"? Hearing this said before and not quite certain where or how it was originated. Don Henley's tragic ballad tells how "In a New York minute, everything can change..." and JohnnyGoodyear's narrative of a darkly bizarre freeze frame urban snapshot...well listening to the song while you read Mr Goodyear's soliloquy might give some an idea.

What about this concept outside of New York and why is a New York minute different from any other minute? Is it slower or faster than minutes in other parts of the country or the world? Is the adjective "New York" referring to New York State or New York City? Here are some fun speculations:

  • So a New York Minute would be LESS than your average minute? For fun, would anyone be willing to hazard an estimate of the amount of seconds contained in a New York Minute?

  • When I was trying to puzzle it out myself I supposed it might be longer than your average minute. I imagined a New Yorker saying, "be there in a minute" and not arriving for an hour or so due to congested traffic.

  • Yes, it's less time than say an Arkansas minute. Maybe 35 seconds.

  • As a Manhattanite myself, everything must be done by yesterday and we need what we need an hour ago. The morning is considered a full day, the afternoon is considered another day and the evening is another day. So there are three days of work to be done in one day. Visitors feel the energy. For me it’s a rush. This place is an ocean of stimuli.

  • I visited N.Y. once, for about ten days. You betcha I felt the energy. There's almost a (musical) beat. This is hard to understand without having been there. I was amazed to see garbagemen running as they carried cans to their truck.

  • stimuli? I see rats just walkin' around and some sunning themslves.
    energy? I hear the non-stop whine of emergency vehicles. :
    Police drunk on steroids! :
    Guiliani. Ugh. Nasty little man.

  • Having lived and worked in many locales on the Isle of Manhattan I do not miss the cacophony that attracts the masses.
    Herman Melville agrees with me when he defined Manhattan as "...the swarming nest of all that is evil and unnatural".

  • Rats, emergency vehicles and nasty little men? You’re right, only New York has that.
    There’s always someone quick to bash the city that never sleeps. Yet millions visit each year and return. The fall and the December holidays are the best time to come. The Broadway shows, the plays, the jazz music, the restaurants with city views, the sidewalk café’s, the Statue of Liberty, Chinatown, Chelsea piers, South street seaport, … the Empire State Building, Little Italy, Little Brazil, Central Park, concerts in the park, dinning in the park, horse drawn carriages through the park, Park Ave, Fashion Ave, Battery Park, hundreds of museums—exhibits---art---filming on the streets, Wall Street, SOHO, the Village, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Times Square, Herald Square, Union Square, hundreds of cathedrals, dinner cruises around the island, mid-town, downtown, uptown, upper eastside, upperwestside…………I’m getting tired thinking about it. Oh yes, I forgot --sanitation workers who run because rats are chasing them. Rats are running because drunk cops are shooting at them in the streets who are only doing that because our nasty little mayor ordered them too.
    (From The Phrase Finder:http://phrases.shu.ac.uk/meanings/index.htm)

Some might want to throw up their hands and say fuggedaboutit! The earliest recording of the proverbial New York minute was in the late 1960s. An amusing book titled Texas Crude authored by Texan Ken Weaver describes this moment, an instant, no time at all or more to the point a "hot New York minute" as:

    "Immediately. Equates to a nanosecond, or that infinitesimal blink of time in New York after the traffic light turns green and before the ol' boy behind you honks his horn."

As for the classification of a nanosecond, news correspondent William Safire obligingly clears that up as "one billionth of a second, a description of instantaneity almost as short as a New York minute."

Some examples used in context might make obvious exactly how short a unit of time is being calculated:

    "Though in general the mayor and city council welcomed the film people, it took a New York minute before the dashing CBS newcomers got crossways with Roslyn. (a small town in Washington)”
    (The New Yorker, 1993). "After White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles made it perfectly clear that he was tired of Washington, it took all of a New York minute for people to begin wondering about his replacement."
    (Time, 1997).

It’s reasonable to assume, and most experts agree, that this idiom refer to New York City and was in all probability invented by a visitor, not a resident because it’s far more often heard outside New York City than within. It describes a unit of time that passes very quickly, fast or without delay. Regional sayings are kind of interesting in that way—the local residents don’t use them often, sometimes because they think it’s not all that flattering. A different phrase supported by the same outlook of the harried New York City life, is not so respectful’ "a New York kiss-off," which renders as "an extremely rude dismissal." It’s easy to imagine that many hard working New York City resident would resent that one.

Traveling can indeed be an education. Using references in one part of the world that the locals wouldn’t think twice about can be downright insulting in other areas of the world. Doing something in a "New York minute" means doing it swiftly. Even the minutes are quicker in the city. A variation of the phrase is "a New York second." Even so, the phrase "in a New York minute" is not particularly disparaging, it reflects a reluctant respect for New Yorkers and a quick and hurried minute that makes allusions to the hustle and bustle of the city. One captivating book The City in Slang," by Irving Lewis Allen establishes the source of a "New York minute" to the frenzied pace of life in the Big Apple. People living in other parts of the world presume that the New York lifestyle leaves little room for leisurely activities--- after all, the saying "rush hour" was coined in New York, long ago during the comparatively laid-back 1890's. Sometimes tho, I think a New York minute would be a nice change of pace from the hasta la mañana attitude prevalent in the laid back lattitude here in the desert southwest.

Sources:

The Big List of Words and Phrases:
www.wordorigins.org/thelist.htm

The Maven’s Word of the Day:
http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=19980924

The Word Dectectives:
www.word-detective.com

The duration of a New York Minute varies from person to person and from instance to instance, but should be defined as "The length of time a New Yorker can wait for something without getting impatient or annoyed."

The city is paced like a cinematic device to show the passage of time, a clock in an episode of the Twilight Zone with its hands spinning faster than the eye can follow. Every second is simultaneously precious and unnoticed; there are better things to do than stand still. We are aware in some subconscious way of the passage of time but are conditioned not to count the minutes. We run on instinct. It sounds strange to talk about instinct in a place so far removed from nature, but it's true. Time is as fluid here as it is in greener parts of the world it just moves much, much faster. Take the stalking of a zebra by a lion and speed it up a hundred-fold and you have a fair approximation of what it's like to cross 23rd street at eight in the morning.

A New York Minute isn't a scientific thing, isn't a concrete measure of time in any respect. You can't be somewhere in two New York Minutes - once you're ticked off once, it's all over. It's like a game show, the object being to get from point A to point B without being slowed down by sidewalk congestion, glared at by a hipster or hit up for change or cigarettes by every third person you come across. Don't play this game in Times Square - the table's rigged.

A New York Minute is a deeply psychological truth, a marriage of a person's patience with what's going through their heads. Five (real world) minutes in a deli turns into an amount of time over a New York Minute if the deli guy passes you up to take the order from the suit behind you. Waiting for table service in a restaurant can take as long as it likes provided you've got someone to talk to, you don't need a refill and your waiter looks overwhelmed.

Summer saturdays in Central Park are usually not annoying, therefore enjoyable and therefore less than a New York Minute even if they last til sunset. By contrast, when waiting for traffic to slow up enough to cross a street a New York Minute asymptotically approaches zero.

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