Eight Idioms You Can Learn In a New York Minute

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Here are some idioms with the word “minute.”  All of these are fun to learn and used frequently in conversation, on the news, and in the workplace.

I. “Gimme a minute!” 

You walk into a pharmacy. There’s no line for the pharmacist, but she’s the only one behind the counter and she’s busy preparing prescriptions and answering the phone. Finally, you tell her you are there to pick up a prescription your doctor called in.  

Gimme a minute,” she says as she looks it up on her computer. “Okay. It’s going to take about twenty minutes. Can you wait?

In English we “take time.”  How much time will it take? How long will it take? These are common questions we ask when we need to know how long we will need to wait.

“Gimme a minute” is the smashed up way we say “Give me a minute.” Many people will use this pronunciation when speaking informally.

You might hear “Gimme a minute” when you are on the phone and someone needs to quickly take another call or find some information. You might hear it when you are paying for merchandise in a store and the cashier needs to look up a price.  People often say this when they feel someone is forcing them to hurry, as in this example below:

“Are you ready?” Jack asked. “The taxi is waiting. We need to leave for the airport.”

Gimme a minute!” Susan answered. “I need to double-check to make sure I turned off the stove.”

To “double-check” is a commonly used expression. It means to check something again.  Here’s an example:  

 “Did you remember to pack your reading glasses?

“Yes. I think so. Gimme a minute. Let me double-check.”


II. “Wait a minute.

“Wait a minute” is sometimes used in a similar way to “gimme a minute.”  Person A is telling Person B that he or she needs to “wait” a short period of time for something.  However, usually “wait a minute” is used in a different way.  It is often used as an interjection. It can be used to indicate that you are questioning something someone just told you. You are demanding a brief pause or “wait” while you process what you just heard. Often this is something that is upsetting or that doesn’t seem correct.  

Here are some examples:

“Wait a minute. Are you telling me that all the money is gone?”

“Wait a minute.  Are you serious?”

“Wait a minute. Are you telling me that Nancy isn’t inviting me to her wedding?”

“Wait a minute. Are you firing me?”


III. “A New York Minute”

New York has a reputation as a fast-paced city. “A New York Minute” is an expression used to indicate that something will be done very quickly.  

“I’d like a coffee to go.”

“I’ll have it for you in a New York minute.”


IV. “Just a minute.”

Sometimes “just a minute” has the interjectional quality of “wait a minute.” Like “wait a minute” It can be used to tell someone to stop, to explain what they mean, especially when you suspect something isn’t right. 

“Just a minute. I think you forgot to give me my change.”

However, usually it is similar to “gimme a minute,” but it sounds less like a demand and more like a courteous reply. It’s short for “I’ll just be a minute,” indicating that one is trying to get to your request as quickly as possible. In short, while both  “gimme a minute” and “just a minute” are used in the same way, “just a minute” sounds a little more polite, and indicates that the request will be taken care of within a very short period.

Customer (on phone): “Hi. It’s Jenna Smith. I’m returning Ms. Bishop’s call.”

Receptionist: “Just a minute, please. I’ll put you through.”

Customer to sales clerk: Excuse me. Could you help me? I’m looking for something in size 6.”

Sales clerk: Just a minute. I’ll be right there.”


V. “last minute”

Think of the “last minute” as being the minute before an event starts.  Imagine that at that “last minute” you are told that the order of the speakers has changed. That would be what we call “a last minute change.” Usually the phrase is used more figuratively. The time period for the change is usually before the literal last minute, but it is late to be making changes.

We use this quite often in a number of contexts. Here are two examples:

John’s brother was going to act as his “best man” at the wedding, but he tested positive for COVID the day before the wedding, so John’s best friend stepped in at the last minute.

When I found out there was an emergency with my mother, I went to the airport hoping there would be a last-minute cancellation and I’d be able to get a flight home.


VI. “Up to the minute.”

“Up to the minute” is an expression you are likely to hear in a news report or an update. An “up to the minute” report goes “up to” the present moment.  

“In a moment, we’ll be bringing you an up to the minute report on the hurricane’s progress.”

“Here is our latest up to the minute reporting on today’s election.”


VII. “It’s been a minute.”

“It’s been a minute” is an expression that has gained popularity in recent years. It’s usually used as an understatement. When we say, “It’s been a minute,” we don’t mean it’s been 60-seconds or even that it’s been a short time. We actually mean it’s been  an unspecified long time. It’s similar to the phrase: “It’s been a while.” We might continue the thought with “since.” Here are some examples:

Tommy:  Mark, is that you?

Mark: Tommy! I’d recognize you anywhere. You haven’t changed!

Tommy: Well, it’s been a minute, but I knew who you were too.

From context, we can see in the above example that it has probably been several years since Mark and Tommy have seen each other.

“How long has it been since you left?”

“I don’t remember exactly, but it’s been a minute. 

I’ve been on this diet for months, but I think I’m going to order dessert. It’s been a minute, and I deserve something sweet!


VIII. “When you get a minute…” 

“When you get a minute” is similar to the phrase “When you get a chance.” Both phrases are used when we want someone to do something, but it doesn’t have to be done immediately.  Here are some examples:

“When you get a minute, I’d like you to look at those resumes for Pete’s old position and tell me what you think.”

“When you get a minute, could you drop my office? We need to talk about something in person.”

Just remember: If someone uses the phrase “When you get a minute…” it does NOT mean that the request is unimportant and can be ignored.  It means that you don’t need to stop what you are doing at the moment. You can wait until you have a minute. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. If you have questions about English lessons, please go here. I’d love to hear from you.