This week our local paper had in its sports headline something about the Mets and a New York minute. What is a New York minute? Are there only 58 or 59 seconds in their minutes? I know it's supposed to represent something faster, but was it invented by a New Yorker who wanted to get the hell out of that city, in a hurry?
-- Ann of San Diego
We haven't visited the word-and-phrase-origin squad in a while. Glad to see nothing's changed much with them. You slide your question under the door then listen to all the haggling while they try to agree on one answer. First we tossed out the "nobody knows where it came from" answer. They always try that, and we don't fall for it. Next we get "nobody knows exactly, but it didn't originate in New York." Very popular with the experts. The phrase is slightly disparaging, suggesting that things in New York City move so fast and New Yorkers are so impatient (ever ridden in a New York taxi?) that they can't even tolerate a 60-second minute. Regional insults, even mild ones, usually don't come from the region in question (e.g., Southern California's Zonie jokes). Their third answer is cagey but a little more helpful. The Dictionary of American Regional English dates the phrase to the mid-1970s (at the latest), where it crops up in print references from Texas. Originator? Not a New Yorker. And that's all we could squeeze out of the cranky loafers on the word-origin committee.