"A minute" used colloquially to describe a very long period of time-ever heard it?

Have you ever heard of or read about “a minute” being used as an informal understatement to suggest a long period of time?


“Hey Ray! It’s good to see you. It’s been a minute.”
“I’ll call you when it’s done. It’s going to take a minute.”

This has always struck me as being a distinct Southernism, and perhaps an Alabama-ism. Hell, it might even be more specific than that, since I grew up hearing it in Montgomery, then moved away to various points in and out of Alabama, and never heard it. A few years ago, I moved back to Birmingham, and suddenly I’m hearing it in common usage again.

Other possible factors: is it a Southern black thing? I’m white, but grew up in a black neighborhood, and never went to a school that was less than 50% black. I live in a very racially mixed community now, and now that I think about it, I usually hear it from my black neighbors (but hell, not always.)

I’m from South Carolina and I’ve heard it but I don’t believe it’s native to here. Certainly nothing I would ever say. I’ve heard it from white people.

I don’t think its a Southernism, at least not the literary equivalent (in which seconds morph into “minutes”, something that’s always bugged me).

“Struck by the logic of my response, Henry sat silent for some minutes.”

Yo Henry! Wake up! The plot’s dragging here while you take 5 minutes to pick up your end of the dialogue. Maybe I should go out for coffee and you can fill me in when I get back?

I live in Northern Virginia and I’ve heard it before, but not until relatively recently, maybe the last 5-6 years. I’m pretty sure when I first heard it, I was confused because I’m used to it being used to imply a short period of time and I had to get an explanation.

No, the way I’ve always heard it (and what makes it so distinctive to my ears) is “a minute”. Not “a few minutes”, or any sort of plural. It always seems to be “a minute”. It’s usually delivered in a slightly lackadaisical understated tone, too. In my first above example, there’d maybe be a bit of a tongue-in-cheek grin to go along with it. In the second, there’d be a slightly apologetic shrug.

I dunno. I agree that your examples might have the same general spirit, but I suppose I’m after the specific regionalism.

White Floridian here, and I’ve never heard the first expression. I hear the second one pretty often as an understatement (or as just an indeterminate period of time, most likely longer than a minute but sometimes in that general ballpark.)

I’m in Houston, TX.

Over the past couple of years I’ve gone from not hearing the term ‘a minute’ as anything other than a minute to being somewhat commonly used to indicate an arbitrary length of time.

Just last night, in fact, a friend of mine was introducing me to his friend. He said that he’s ‘known him a minute’ and we’ve known each other for a couple of years now.

Northeast Texas representative here…

Use of “a minute” to mean a long period of time has been around at least since I was in high school (1995-1999.) My first exposure to it was from my black friends, but I use it, my wife uses it, and most white people I know would at least know what it means. So it may be that it started in AAVE and is migrating.

If you have known someone for a really long time, you might say “oh I’ve known Bizzle for a hot minute.”

Actually, thinking about it, there is always a little more emphasis on the word “minute” when used this way–I guess as a means to distinguish it from a literal minute.

SC: I’ve never heard an example like the first one. The second one, definitely.

I hadn’t heard it until I made a friend who uses it. He’s from the same place as me (suburban Ohio) but his family is from Akron-by-way-of-West-Virginia.

I don’t know that I know anyone else that uses it. But I use it from time to time now.

A guy I work with is the first person I’ve heard who uses “a minute” in the same way one might use “a coon’s age” or “many moons” as opposed to a far smaller indeterminate length of time.

Definitely a black thing. And white people who want to be black.

So the minister is talking to God, and he asks Him, “God, a hundred years must be like a minute to you, is that right?”

And God said, “Yes, that’s right.”

And the minister then asked, “And a million dollars is like a penny to you, is that right?”

And God said, “yes, that’s right.”

So the minister asked, “Can you give me a penny?”

And God replied, “Yes, I will. In a minute.”

I’m not really sure that’s fair. I may not be the absolute best one to evaluate this, because of my background, but I definitely heard it while growing up (1970’s and 80’s), and it was used biracially. Maybe it has spread in the way you described, but I’m not sure it originated that way. In other words, I reserve the right to use it with impunity, because, by God, it dates back to childhood for me, and has no particular racial context. :slight_smile:

I’m in Alabama - Huntsville now, but I grew up near Auburn - and I’ve never heard this at all.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever heard it when I lived in Auburn either (or Huntsville, for that matter). Strange, since Auburn is only 50 miles away from Montgomery.

I’m in Pennsylvania and I’ve heard it, purely as a part of AAVE. Not only have I heard “it’s been a minute” to mean “an undetermined lengthy period of time” I’ve heard “it’s been a pretty minute” to mean an even longer period of time.

Never heard that, southern, northern or western. (Eastern, dunno.) Sounds like a typical slang perversion of language, where bad means good.

Coincidentally, my 13-year-old son used that phrase in that way recently, and my husband asked that he not do so. Apparently, the only context that Mr. M. had heard it used before (and apparently, it’s been that way for a long time) has been in jails/prisons - usually from inmates discussing sentences. Maybe that’s where it got started?

Hmmm…maybe so. I’ve never heard it in that context (but that doesn’t mean anything).