We all know what “minute” means, right? It’s a small duration of time. We have many bigger time periods — millennia, centennia, generations, decades, years, months, days, hours, before we finally reach the next-to-smallest unit of all, the minute.
Using “minute” is a way to indicate a duration of time more extensive than the blink of an eye but still close to the present moment. It’s often a promise to the listener: “Forgot my keys, I’ll be back in a minute.” Or “I’ll be able to seat you in a minute, as soon as we can clear the table.”
This year the singer Poppy released a song titled “In a Minute” that begins:
I’ll make up my face in a minute
I’ll reform this state in a minute
Cashed my check, got paid, yeah I did it
I haven’t done my nails in a minute
It’s about how her job has made her important and taken away her free time, not to mention her free will. But not all minutes are equal. The “New York Minute,” celebrated in movies (a 2004 film of that name, a teen comedy with the Olson twins), song (by Don Henley, 1988), and an online women’s magazine (2012), is the smallest imaginable speck of time, much less than a whole second.
New York is not the only place with its own minute. In Chicago, for example, Mike Lubow, who wrote a column, “Got a Minute?” for the Chicago Tribune, titled the 2012 collection of his essays In a Chicago Minute.
In Urbandictonary.com, “Lilcap” explains that the “LA minute” is five minutes to an hour "(due to traffic, the wide sprawl of LA, and because everyone in LA is laid back).” Lilcap posted this in 2016.
How about a Minnesota minute? Tim Healy titled his 2010 book of photographs Elvis: In a Minnesota Minute, with pictures from a convention of Elvis impersonators. There’s one copy left on Amazon, yours for a cool $1,299.99.
Texas has a minute, In a Texas Minute being the title of a 2005 novel by the prolific author Stella Bagwell.
A fan fiction story called “A Texas Minute” includes this musing:
“There’s a New York minute, Chicago minute, Texas minute, LA minute, all with different lengths and meanings and moods.
“You hope this will pass like a New York minute.
“But it’s creeping by like a Texas minute.”
In 2010, “Shadowisle” posted in Urbandictionary: “A ‘jeeve minute’ is when someone says, i’ll be there in 5 minutes and takes them 25 minutes to get there. 1 actual minute is 5 jeeve minutes.”
Who knew that a time designation could be so elastic? There seems to be no limit to how small or how large a minute can be. Urbandictionary has an entry for “in a minute” that means “when you haven’t done something in a long time,” as a 2004 post in Urbandictionary’s top definition, approved by readers 603 votes to 111. It gives as a sample sentence:
“For example, I haven’t seen her in a minute.”
Other Urbandictionary definitions include these examples:
I’ll holler at you in a minute.
I ain’t seen him in a minute.
What’s a minute to you?