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In the past year, I've started to hear phrases like "I know I've been gone for a minute..." when the speaker is referring to a time period that is significantly longer than 60 seconds (multiple days). That is, they don't even mean a relatively short period of time (unless they compare it to a decade or something).

Is this word drift actually happening? And, if so, where did it start? Is it purposely ironic?

Examples: 1, 2

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This would be news to me. While minute has long referred to an indefinitely long period of time that is not exactly 60 seconds, that period was usually fairly short. (Certainly not multiple days). Is this in a particular context? Is it the same person or group you're hearing this in? –  Dusty Dec 7 '10 at 23:59
    
I've heard this with younger people. I just googled "gone for a minute", found various hits including the following blog post (where a quick scan tells you that the writer is referring to being gone multiple days) mrshall-intraining.blogspot.com/2010/05/… –  Chris Dwyer Dec 8 '10 at 0:27
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My impression is that "minute" in this usage has been replacing "moment", perhaps for several generations. "Moment" seems to be a concept that few grok these days... Not that moment is of greater duration than a minute, merely less definite... –  mickeyf Dec 8 '10 at 0:51
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This doesn't strike me as particularly strange usage. We also say "it's boiling outside", "I've told you a million times", "you never let me do what I want", "hold on for a second", and so many others. –  Kosmonaut Dec 8 '10 at 14:59
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@Chris: I intentionally chose common examples, so that they would be familiar to everyone and context free, but I do think there are many variations on those types of phrases that are uncommon or even created ad-hoc with ease. That said, these types of uses (starting out ironic or hyperbolic) can sometimes ultimately lead to an actual change or forking of the meaning of a word. I'm not sure it seems likely with "minute" here, but you never know. –  Kosmonaut Dec 9 '10 at 14:51
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3 Answers

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This seems like a typical case of understatement. Technically, if you are gone for a day, you were also gone for a minute. People frequently understate or exaggerate things for effect. This doesn't mean that the meaning of the words has changed.

I've been gone for a minute

If the reader/listener knows the speaker was gone for a long time, this statement is merely an acknowledgement of the long delay, which was possibly longer than originally expected.

Wait here a minute

In this case I don't think the listener would ever expect to wait for days. Even an hour would be considered quite long.

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You really think that a typical English listener/reader accepts multiple days for "I've been gone for a minute"? –  Chris Dwyer Dec 8 '10 at 15:55
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@Chris Dwyer: yes, in certain contexts. By playing down the duration between blog posts the author may be poking fun at themselves for having been actually gone for more than a minute. The reader is not meant to read "minute" in a literal sense. Furthermore, there seems to be at least one song (mentioned by VonC) which uses the phrase "gone for a minute but now I'm back", to which these blog posts might be alluding. This further reinforces my belief that the "gone for a minute" is not in any way meant to be literal, and thus the meaning of "minute" is not changed. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 8 '10 at 17:40
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Shiny: +1, I agree, and the context (a blogger speaking about his/her publication schedule) lends itself to this kind of irony, a "minute" being here for several days. –  VonC Dec 9 '10 at 13:00
    
@VonC: That makes sense, more to your first point in your answer... and Mr. Shiny's description of "poking fun at themselves". But, I also have a sense that this usage is more spread out than this single blog. Do you think that's true? –  Chris Dwyer Dec 9 '10 at 15:37
    
@Chris: I wouldn't know for sure, being a non-native speaker, but depending on the context, using "gone for a minute" with this particular meaning doesn't shock me. –  VonC Dec 9 '10 at 16:01
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Not a complete answer, but the example you mention (the blog post "I been gone for a minute but Im back again ... ") is:

  • clearly ironic in its usage of "a minute" (bloggers always vow to a certain publication schedule, before drifting from it)
  • a reference to a song (as one comment said: "Missed hearing the second verse of this song- lol."), like "BABY BASH LYRICS" (or other songs)
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Perhaps you could look at how the second in e.g. "one second, please" or "(be back) in a second" came to be, as I assume a second at one point in the history of English literally meant 1 second and not minutes/hours.

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