Time graphic

The English language has some strange phrases that refer to the passage of time – for example, a “jiffy,” “a New York minute” and “once in a blue moon.” 

According to EN-Academic, a “jiffy” refers to a fraction of time. The technical measure the phrase refers to changes depending on the scientific subject: electronics, computing or physics. 

In electronics, a jiffy describes the time between alternating current power cycles when the flow of electric charge periodically reverses, which is between 0.016 and 0.02 seconds. 

For computing the measurement is less precise, referring to the duration of one tick of the system timer interrupt, and the duration depends on the hardware. For the Intel i386, a 32-bit microprocessor introduced in 1985, a jiffy was 0.004 seconds.

In quantum and astrophysics, Edward R. Harrison defined a jiffy as the time it takes for light to travel one fermi, which is the size of a nucleon. By that definition, a jiffy is 0.000000000000000000000003 seconds, better represented by the equation 3 × 10−24 seconds.

The term jiffy was coined by Gilbert Newton Lewis to describe the time it takes light to travel one centimeter, which is approximately 33.3564 picoseconds or 0.0000000000333564 seconds, according to Numericana

Contrary to the scientific measurement of time, a New York minute references the fast-paced lifestyle of New Yorkers and the term was likely coined by Texans during the late ‘60s, reported Gary Clothier, Mr. Know-It-All columnist.

“It was said a New Yorker does in an instant what a Texan would do in a whole minute. A New York minute has also been described as the interval between a Manhattan traffic light turning green and when the guy behind you starts honking his horn,” wrote Clothier. 

Once in a blue moon” referred to an impossible absurdity in the 16th century and later evolved into a colloquialism meaning “never,” often used in sarcastic contexts by folks in the 18th century, according to Philip Hiscock.

Hiscock reported by the 19th century, blue moon events had been observed as a result of extreme weather and natural disasters, which changed the meaning of the phrase a final time to refer to something rare and elusive.


Follow Sidney Miles on Twitter, @all_s_miles

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