Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I don’t know about you, but when I write, I use the word “moment” quite a bit. I never really stopped to think about how long a “moment” was until my first editor for Fire Eyes made me take out a description of a moment—I had deemed it “a long moment”—she let me know that there could be no such thing as a “long moment”—it was either a moment or it wasn’t.

Ever since then, I’ve paid close attention to my writing about “moments”—because it dawned on me that I believed there were more than just one kind of moment. There are the long, awkward pause moments; the quick can’t-believe-I-said-that moments; the long steady stare moments that say “I saw what you did and I know who you are”. There are the moments in between the blink of a firefly’s light in the summer night, and the breathless moments in between the first assault of a tornado’s devastating winds and the eye of the storm. There are the moments that tick by into minutes, and then hours…and hopelessness; and there are the moments of despair that settle quickly only to be lifted by a smile of forgiveness or understanding.

I subscribe to a funny little newsletter called “Wisegeek” that addresses all manner of subjects, and their piece on “moments” was what prompted this post. Here’s what they had to say about it:

The amount of time in a moment is 90 seconds, or one and a half minutes, according to its usage as a unit of time measurement in medieval times dating back to the 8th century. This was based on the positioning of shadows on a sun dial, in which shadows moved along the dial 40 times in an hour. After the invention of the mechanical clock in the 13th century, a moment was no longer widely used as a specific unit of measurement. Going forward in modern times, a moment began to be used as a figure of speech to refer vaguely to any very brief period of time.

More about measurements of time:

• Time has been measured since at least 1500 BC, which is the first instance of records indicating time measurement through the invention of the sundial by the ancient Egyptians.

• The word clock comes from the medieval Latin word for bell and refers to the bell that was used to signal that it was time for monks to pray.

• The poet Miroslav Holub proposed in 1990 that a moment is the unit of time it takes a person to read a average line of verse.

So now that you know what a moment really is, what do you think? Would you define it the same way? How would you measure a moment in your writing? Would there be “long moments”? “Fleeting moments”? “Awkward moments”? I’m of the mind that there can be many different kinds of moments—but it’s clear, not everyone agrees. What do you think?



  1. Cheryl,

    Wait a moment; I lost my train of thought.

    Ah yes, a momentous article.


    1. It'll come to you in just a moment, Charlie! LOL

  2. A most interesting post, I'll take a moment to process it...still can't come up with anything definitive.

    Now I'll be taking time, moments, all day thinking about this. Sigh. Doris

  3. Took a moment to read this. Was a very interesting moment. No doubt about that. :)

  4. A moment sometimes takes pages of description, doesn't it? But that is of no moment, is it?

  5. Our lives are not measured by the number of breaths we take, but rather by the number of moments that take our breath away. An excellent article, Cheryl.

    Enjoy your day.

    ~ Cindy Nord

  6. Provocative post, Cheryl. I tend to think of moments as negotiable units of time. They're as long as I need for them to be.

  7. Great. Now I've got ANOTHER word to add to the "kill your darlings" list. :-D

    I never realized there was a definition for moment. That strikes me as kind of ... odd. Language evolves. Shouldn't writers evolve with it? Even some "webspeak" words have crept into the OED and especially into the new Scrabble Dictionary. (Sadly, nobody asked me first or I would have put the kibosh on that.)

    Thought-provoking post, Okie!

  8. Interesting essay. I supposed it depends on the editor as well--since language is a living thing. I'm in the middle of reviewing copy edits on one of my books now and noticed that the editor had inserted "long moment" into a particular sentence. I do confess to using it quite a bit though. Like you and Vonn McKee, I tend to think of moments as negotiable.

  9. Great article, Cheryl. It reminds me of how we always say we'll be there in a second, and then an hour later come strolling in. I know I've used the "long moment" in a story, or two. But if you think on it, a minute and a half can seem like an eternity when someone is staring you down. (aka the dad stare when you've done something wrong)

  10. Terrific post, Cheryl. Learned something new today. I loved how you related them to how we think of moments today.

  11. Well, "a moment" I think is up for translation. Sometimes a thing can be taken literally when you really just meant it figuratively. Really, if Picasso can paint a blue, squared off lady with one eye, I think we can use the word moment without setting our daggum watch. We're creative people, doing creative things; we can create a long moment.

  12. Cheryl, I rarely take time to read blogs, much less comment on them, but this is exceptional. Thank you.

  13. Good post. I think there can be a "long moment," which is slightly shorter than a lingering stare and somewhat longer than an "instant."

  14. Interesting! Although I must admit, I have a hard time worrying about details when I'm writing. Whatever seems right at the time is what lands on the page. Now you have me curious, though, because I have no idea how I've used the word. A word search is in order. :)

  15. I guess for me, a "moment" is an unspecified, but emotionally meaningful, period of time. Unless somebody wanted my attention or wanted me to do something and I answered, "just a moment." Then it's still an unspecified amount of time, just not emotionally meaningful!

  16. I paused for a moment of introspection on this one, because I, too, use the word 'moment' in my writing. For me, moment includes emotion. For instance, "He looked at her for several long moments..." There could be longing, regret, sadness, joy--any emotion I need him to feel in those moments. If I'd written, "He looked at her for several seconds..." it's just time passing.

  17. Forgive this "blanket response" to everyone's wonderful comments, please--I have been nursing home "shopping" and moving for my sister and have to hit the sack and start again tomorrow. But I wanted to say thanks to everyone who stopped by today and commented on this blog. I have enjoyed reading each and every comment and thought about what a "moment" means to each of us. I sure had fun putting this post together with the pictures and captions, and I could have gone on and on with more! LOL Thanks for each thoughtful response, and I'm so glad you all enjoyed my post and took time to read and respond.