“A New York Minute” – Phrase Origin

The phrase a New York Minute is used to describe something quick or fast, like how the people in New York City live their lives. The hustle and bustle in the city never ends (or never sleeps, as the saying goes). So, where did the phrase “a New York minute” originate from?

The phrase “a New York minute” originated in Texas in the mid-20th century as a way to say something was fast or quick, much quicker than a minute. They would use the phrase as a comparison to a normal minute, which was more like the slower pace of life in Texas, unlike the fast-paced life in NYC. 

In this article I’ll explain more about what a New York minute is and where the phrase originated from. I’ll also cover the use of the phrase in media, some synonyms of the word, and some similar phrases used to describe time. 

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The Phrase “A New York Minute” Originated in Texas

The phrase a New York Minute did not actually originate in New York but in another part of the country: Piney Woods, Texas. The phrase started being used to compare how fast New Yorkers moved and lived their lives compared to the people of Texas.

A minute in New York City is actually not any longer than a minute anywhere else, but for people who are not used to the fast-paced city life, it may seem that way. 

A New York minute was how Texans started referring to one second, or to say that time went by in a flash. 

The phrase became even more popular and started to spread outside of Texas when entertainer Johnny Carson used the phrase. He defined 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.” 

Today, the phrase “a New York minute” is a common term that people use to describe something that happens really fast. 

Dictionary Definition of A New York Minute 

A New York Minute is not a minute at all, but a very short period of time, closer to a second. 

Here is the Merriam-Webster definition of a New York Minute:

New York minute (Noun, US, informal): a very brief span of time 

plural New York minutes

Merriam-Webster also has some synonyms for the phrase New York minute:

  • beat
  • eyeblink
  • flash
  • heartbeat
  • instant
  • jiff
  • jiffy
  • minute
  • moment
  • nanosecond
  • second 
  • split second

As you can see, a New York minute is closer to one second, not sixty seconds. And it’s used as a way to describe something that happens very quickly, as all the synonyms above do. 

Here is a video explanation of the phrase on Youtube from Essential English Idioms and Phrases:

Example Sentences 

There are many ways people can use the phrase a New York Minute, as long as they describe something that has passed quickly or even that moves at a frantic pace. Here are some example sentences that use the phrase in them and how it’s interpreted in conversation:

  • I need that report done and on my desk in a New York minute. (The report needs to be completed as soon as possible.)
  • I saw my favorite band in concert last night, but it was over in a New York minute. (The concert seemed to go by quickly, like in an instant.
  • Winters seems to drag on, yet summer goes by in a New York minute. (It doesn’t feel as though summer lasts as long as winter.) 

Opposite of a New York Minute

The opposite of a New York minute is something that would take like what seems forever. 

Here are some of the antonyms for a New York minute from Thesaurus.Plus:

  • eon
  • age
  • eternity
  • forever
  • infinity
  • lifetime

You can see that these are words for something that would take significantly longer than a second or even a standard, non-New York minute. 

As we discussed above, the term New York minute started in Texas to describe the fast-paced life of New Yorkers. However, if you switched the situation and asked New Yorkers to describe how fast or slow time moves in Texas, they would likely use one of these phrases, such as a lifetime or an eternity. They would use one of these opposite phrases because they think life outside of the big city moves slowly compared to the fast-paced life they are used to. 

Use of “A New York Minute” in Media

The term “a New York Minute” has been used in the media to describe stories or events happening in New York City. 

New York Minute (2004)

One of the biggest uses of the term was in the 2004 movie of the same name. The movie starred the Olsen twins and Eugene Levy in a comedy about two teenagers who ditch school to spend the day in Manhattan. The girls are in a time crunch and only have a few hours, which, as the name suggests, goes quite fast in New York City!

Here is the movie description from Netflix:

A pair of bickering twins get into multiple misadventures when they head into Manhattan on a school day — with a truancy officer hot on their heels.

The girls run through New York quickly and kind of frantically, which is what the meaning of the term is meant to represent. You will notice this behavior based on the term in the Youtube trailer from Movieclips Classic Trailers:

The movie was not rated well by critics, but fans of the Olsen twins and people who love the goofy, family movies, most of whom are children, love the movie, and this is one of the ways they learn of the phrase “a New York Minute.”

If you want to learn more about the movie and the storyline, here is a recap of the movie on Youtube from Movie Fanatic:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmogCz7mNM4

Other Uses of the Phrase in Media

Some other ways in which the term a New York Minute has been used in media include:

  • Album: In a New York Minute – a vocal Jazz studio album by Ian Shaw
  • TV Episode: New York Minute – Season 16, episode 8 of Law & Order
  • Podcast: A New York Minute In History – NPR Podcast

There are also two songs using the phrase:

  • New York Minute – a rock song from 1988 by Don Henley. 
  • In a New York Minute – a country song from 1985 by Ronnie McDowell. 

Here is Don Henley’s song on Youtube from Amila Perera:

And here is Ronnie Mc Dowell’s song on Youtube from Wicker Bill:

Other Phrases About Time

Many other phrases and slang are used to describe a period of time, similar to a New York minute. 

Some of them make more sense to describe the amount of time they are referring to, and others are like the phrase New York minute where they have an amount of time in the phrase (like a minute) but actually describe something else (like a second).

  • “In no time” – Something that will happen or be done in what feels like a short period of time. It will be done before you know it. 
  • “Around the clock” or “24/7” – something that is happening at all times, no matter the hour or the day. It is constantly going on and non-stop. 
  • ASAP – Stands for “as soon as possible,” meaning something needs to happen now or very fast.  
  • “No time to waste” – A situation where time is of the essence, and there is no time to spare. Every second in the situation matters. 
  • “On the hour” or “at the top of the hour” – something that happens every hour, exactly when the hour minute hand on the clock reaches 12. For example, 1:00, 2:00, 12:00, 13:00, 23:00. 
  • “Once in a blue moon” is something that rarely happens but occasionally occurs. 
  • “Donkey’s years” – to describe a long period of time where something has not happened.
  • “Umpteenth time” – describes something that has happened many, many times before. This phrase is usually an exaggeration implying that something has seemingly happened millions of times before, even though it has not actually happened that many times. 
  • “In a sec” – is used to say something or someone will be done, free, or ready soon, although not actually in exactly one second. Also, “in a minute,” which does not mean in exactly one minute, but close. 

Final Thoughts

A New York minute originated in Texas as a way to compare the laid-back way of life in the country to living in the big city, where life moves at a much faster pace. A New York minute is closer to a second because it is something that moves so fast. Once the phrase became popular in the late 20th century, people used it often in media, and people use it in their everyday vocabulary. 

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