N. Y. minute

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Feb 23 19:16:52 UTC 2008

In his "On Language" column in tomorrow's N. Y. Times Magazine,
Safire leavens his discussion of the "bird-dog minute" (cited by
Hillary Clinton) with a reference to the "New York minute", which he
just mentions in passing, with the comment:

"That emphatically speedy minute was coined by a Washington Post
headline writer in 1927 about a speech in New York by James Rowland
Angell, the president of Yale, that was sped instantly round the
world by the newfangled medium of radio".  Checking the HDAS for the
NYM, I find nothing predating a 1967 cite in DARE ("It won't take any
longer than a New York minute"), and the second cite is from Safire
himself in 1980.  So what gives--should I petition the Powers That Be
to take Angell's plaque here in for recarving so they can add credit
for coining "New York minute"?  Checking the OED, all I find is an
emphatically bracketed passage that reads as follows:

[1927 Washington Post 20 Apr. 6 (headline) The New York minute... The
speech of President Angell at noon in New York..will reach Honolulu
at 6 a. m. Wednesday and Tokyo at 2 a. m. Thursday... A few brief
minutes of time at New York thus become nearly a whole day when
spread around the earth.]

--which makes it clear that President Angell had nothing to do with
the "coining", and raises doubt (as does the bracketing) as to
whether the headline writer really deserves credit for it either,
given the gap between the 1927 entry and the first unbracketed one:

1954 Galveston (Texas) News 15 Aug. 22/5 Betty Jean Bird of the
Pirate Club has what she claims the smallest French poodle in the
nation... It's no bigger than a *New York minute and that's only
thirty seconds.

I can't remember what that asterisk means in the OED, but it does
seem as though this 1954 usage is continuous with that in 1967 and
current ones.  It's curious that the first couple of unbracketed hits
are from Texas sources (including one from Molly Ivins herself in
1974), which brings to mind the country song in which the singer
declares "I'd make love to you in a New York minute/And take my Texas
time a doin' it."  Maybe it's a Texas/New York thang, like that New
York Brand Texas Toast (made in Ohio).


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list