I've been hearing it for a *minute*
June 1, 2018 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Over the past few years, the usage of "a minute" to mean "quite a while" has expanded into the white, midwest-american culture in which I spend all my time. It really ticks me off! I would like it to not tick me off, so I am trying to learn more about the history of this usage. My google-fu is failing me, so I turn to AskMe for help. Where is this from? Who popularized it? What is the correct way for me to use it? How can it be used incorrectly? Please don't wait a minute to answer!
posted by rebent to Grab Bag (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't help with the etymology (?), but it appears in Urban Dictionary 15 (!) years ago.
posted by kuanes at 12:27 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]

Anecdotal: My friend who says this all the time was born and raised in Pittsburgh.
posted by colorblock sock at 12:48 PM on June 1

Here's a stackexchange discussion, but it's less than conclusive. Possibly it's related to "hot minute", which seems to have taken on the meaning "a long time" in the past 20 years or so.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:49 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]

Oh man, we've been saying that for a minute. I actually have a strangely clear memory of the first time I heard this. I knew a guy in high school who had transferred in, and he said it all the time. We all kind of picked it up from him. White, semi-suburban/semi-small town Ohio. This dude had previously attended an inner city (but still midwestern) school, and so I always assumed it was "an inner city thing". I paid reasonably close attention to black pop culture in the 90s, though, and I don't remember it coming up anywhere there, so maybe it was just a quirk of his? That's all I got, unfortunately. But yeah, it's been around for a good 20+ years.

The correct way to use it is when you're trying to make the point that you have or haven't been doing something for a long time, but you don't want to exaggerate and seem dramatic. So like, "I'm hungry as hell; I haven't eaten in a minute". Or "I need to get a new job; I've been working here for a minute". It's important to note that, when spoken, you elide the "have" contraction as in AAVE: "yeah, I been binge-watching 'The Wire' for a minute". Something about that doesn't look right in writing, though, similar to how a lot of people who say "I'ma" still write out "I'm gonna". The AAVE sentence construction further makes me think that the expression oriented in the inner city, but I have no sources for that. It's possible that it's spurious, that white teenagers in Ohio just happened to start adopting AAVE at the same time we started using this one particular phrase, but I've never heard anyone use it in any other context.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:57 PM on June 1 [3 favorites]

Yup, also used it in the same way in high school in the midwest mid/late 90s (so about 20 years ago!) It was definitely a "cool" thing to say back then, but haven't heard it much since.
posted by stillmoving at 12:59 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]

Perhaps in this case, the definition of 'minute' is attributed to the adjective vs. the noun.
posted by OnefortheLast at 12:59 PM on June 1

One online slang dictionary says the usage as "a long period of time" is intended as a humorous understatement and compares the usage of "days" which is often used as a humorous overstatement of time. I don't know that this one reference totally establishes humorous understatement as the one and only source of the usage, but understanding the idea might be helpful in developing your understanding of why people might use it.

Just guessing, but a conversation along the lines of "When will you X?" "In a minute!", where the minute is intended literally but in fact stretches out to a much longer time, is very, very common. The idea that "a minute" could easily mean anything from 30 minutes to a few hours could easily have led to a more systematic and joking uses of "in a minute" type phrases to mean long periods of time.

Several related entries in the Urban Dictionary suggest the usage meaning "a long time" ("According to comedian Al Jackson approximately 5 years") is common, has been in use for some time, and may be more often used (or perhaps got its start?) in African-American usage.
posted by flug at 1:00 PM on June 1

Everyone I’ve known who says it is Black.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:01 PM on June 1 [6 favorites]

As for popularization, the phrase "gone for a minute", with the implication that this "minute" was a long time, is all over song lyrics. Back to at least 2006.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:03 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]

If it helps, the context in which I understand this usage is in juxtaposition to a unit of time that is even shorter and more immediate.

I.e., “just a second” isn’t actually one second, but meant to convey relatively immediacy. And “it’s gone be a minute” contains an implicit reference to that, but is going to be longer by contrast.

And it’s also obviously using antiphrasis for effect.

I don’t have a cite for this but pretty confident that like all things hip adopted by mainstream white culture, it has its roots in AAVE.
posted by danny the boy at 1:05 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]

And here's 2002 example. It looks like the answer to "who popularized this usage?" might be Busta Rhymes?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:06 PM on June 1

I found a Swedish college paper citing its use in Snoop Dogg circa the 1990s.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:12 PM on June 1

Never heard it until I moved to Cincinnati in 2014. Among white people.
posted by 8603 at 2:19 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]

I have generally associated with AAVE. The young Black women at my kid's school say it sometimes, they're from the Bay Area and in their mid-20s. The white folks of the same age at work, largely but not exclusively from CA, do not.
posted by vunder at 2:29 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]

My varied interests and media consumption keeps me (middle aged white guy) pretty informed of phrases and slang that most people I know have never heard. But I confess "it's been a minute" was never on my radar until the last couple years, specifically as used by Sam Sanders of NPR on the NPR Politics Podcast. When he spun off to do his own podcast, he named it, appropriately, It's Been a Minute.
posted by The Deej at 2:34 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]

I've probably been saying it for at least 15 years. First half of that was in a liberal Southern college town, the latter half in New York. I'm a thirty something white woman. So I dunno? I've had a reasonably diverse friend group in this period of time. No idea who I picked it up from.
posted by greta simone at 2:34 PM on June 1

I picked it up from my roommate while living in Philly. I have mostly put it back down again but I kinda liked it.

While I was living there I told a visiting friend that we needed to eat some watermelon because it had "been in the fridge a minute" and she was extremely confused.
posted by little cow make small moo at 2:40 PM on June 1

Milwaukee, never heard it, was completely confused until kevinbelt's first line. I am (surprise!) white and in my 40s.
posted by AFABulous at 2:48 PM on June 1

Canada checking in.

I have absolutely never heard "a minute" used to mean "quite a while".
posted by LauraJ at 3:01 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]

What, is this English developing an imperfect tense? (Imperfective aspect?) Too cool.
posted by clew at 3:18 PM on June 1

AAVE has lots of verb aspects that newscaster English doesn’t. I’m no expert but I was taught back in the late 90s that AAVE had a continual present imperfect that was perfectly cromulent and grammatical, but Brokaw couldn’t use it.

As to the original question. I think it’s been a minute since the phrase circulated among various cool/youth/urban cultures, and has rapidly spread among unhip old suburban whiteys in just the past 3-5 years. Come on if it’s on NPR it ain’t especially fresh.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:37 PM on June 1 [4 favorites]

I've heard this used in the South (North Florida and central Alabama) since childhood, so late 80's/early 90s at least. I always assumed it was a Southern thing (or something white Southerners ripped off of AAVE).
posted by saladin at 6:13 PM on June 1

Never heard of "In a minute" meaning anything more than a minute or less. White guy who grew up in the upper midwest.
posted by sanka at 8:06 PM on June 1

Everyone I’ve known who says it is Black.

I know many many white people who say this, but all under 40. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if it stated in black communities, as a lot of language change does.

Language changes. We cant’t stop it. Our choices are to get annoyed, studiously ignore it, or embrace it. I decided I liked my conversations with younger people more when I embraced the changes. (“A minute” for “a long time” was admittedly, a harder one to embrace.)
posted by greermahoney at 8:07 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]

And the first time I heard it was er... 8 years ago, in NorCal.
posted by greermahoney at 8:09 PM on June 1

I have heard several white and black people use it in Montreal. It always gives me pause and I have to remind myself that it means lots more than a minute. Only started noticing it about a year ago.
posted by eisforcool at 10:02 PM on June 1

White, UK, early 40’s - never heard that phrase used in this context and am very confused. What do such adopters use when referring to a period of time that actually is approx sixty seconds?
posted by freya_lamb at 8:38 AM on June 2

"What do such adopters use when referring to a period of time that actually is approx sixty seconds?"

I still say "a minute", but there's a subtle difference in tone. Kind of like the difference in saying "oh, right" when someone reminds you of something you'd forgotten, and saying "oh, right" sarcastically to mock something you disagree with. The wording is identical, but it's quite easy to distinguish between the two usages.

But honestly, I'm having trouble thinking of times when I would actually say "a minute" when referring to a unit of sixty seconds. Like, if I'd never listened to the Rolling Stones before, and someone had just pressed play on "Get Off My Cloud" sixty seconds ago, it would be ridiculous to say "dude, I've been listening to the Stones for a minute!" I'm hard-pressed to think of any time I actually refer to exactly sixty seconds; most cases I can think of are approximate. "How much time is left on the microwave?" "About a minute." There's an ongoing nature of the usage in question that keeps anyone from getting confused.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:55 AM on June 2

I grew up in the deep south and heard this all the time as a kid in the 80s, currently in NorCal and can't remember the last time I heard someone say it.
posted by bradbane at 10:27 AM on June 2

This year NPR launched an excellent podcast called It’s Been a Minute. Can’t link on mobile but here: https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510317/its-been-a-minute-with-sam-sanders
posted by CMcG at 3:07 PM on June 2

White lady in my early 30s from Cincinnati. My social circle (mostly white, a couple people of color) have been using this phrase in this way for at least a decade, probably more like decade and a half.

Typical usage: "I haven't been to that bar for a minute" (ie, several months)
posted by mostly vowels at 7:24 PM on June 2

All the people I know (multiple races and ethnicities) in their late teens/early 20's in Arizona say it. Not so much for those over 25, though.
posted by mollywas at 11:25 PM on June 3

White person from suburban Oregon; I've known of it for at least 10 years (from my mid-to-late high school days). I think I encountered it more online, but possibly largely from local acquaintances. I always loosely associated it with the similarly used "[been a] grip," which I'm sure came from somewhere legit but at the time I discovered it just seemed like try-hard slang.
posted by Carouselle at 6:00 PM on June 4

Grip! The same friend who says minute says grip.
posted by rebent at 5:49 AM on June 17

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