The specific usage I'm thinking of is something like:

"He exerted a single ____ of effort to..." (blah blah blah).

The word I'm thinking of is "modicum" but after looking up the definition, that apparently just means "small quantity." I'm looking for a single word describing the smallest amount - like modicum - but also implies "indivisible" or something like that. Preferably a noun, so it fits the usage above without rewriting.

Am I crazy, or does a word like this exist? I swear a word like this exists.

  • In physics atoms, quarks, and electrons are generally considered indivisible. Of those, I think atom is the only one that could possibly make sense. – emsoff May 14 '14 at 3:49
  • @jboneca - Except atoms are divisible... – dwjohnston May 14 '14 at 3:52
  • Planck's constant. e,g, He has Planck's constant as the basis of the amount of work has to contribute. e.g. The effort he has put in is but a mere tad next to Planck's constant. – Blessed Geek May 14 '14 at 4:02
  • Rather difficult to use anything regarding Planck with non science-nerds, though. Most people would not get it. – Helpful May 14 '14 at 4:03
  • @user1068446 keep in mind I only have 600 characters for a comment, so details and references are often omitted. There are indeed physicists who believe that an atom is indivisible, following the logic that dividing an atom results in it losing its essential nature - it's no longer the same atom. Ignoring the recombination by Bonn in 2012, causing an atom to lose or gain electrons results in new, not divided, atoms. It really depends how particular you choose to be, and in which direction. I could say, for example, that an iota is divisible; It has a limit, but not a definition of, zero. – emsoff May 14 '14 at 15:31

Iota.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ (Or perhaps grain).

Such terms seem to be used more often in a negative context than a positive one, e.g. "You haven't done an iota of what I asked you to do before I went shopping!"

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  • Ooh! I like this. I don't think it what I was originally thinking of, but it could work. Gunna wait for a couple other answers before I accept one. – Helpful May 14 '14 at 3:50

I think the word you are thinking of is "quantum".

See Wiktionary:

  1. (physics) The smallest possible, and therefore indivisible, unit of a given quantity or quantifiable phenomenon.

You also might be thinking of "atom".

See Wiktionary

  1. The smallest, indivisible constituent part or unit of something. (Now generally interpreted as a figurative use of the physics sense, above.)

These have the advantage over my fellow answer givers that they specifically means an indivisible amount as opposed to a very, very small amount.

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The term you are looking for is iota.

From Merriam-Webster

iota - an infinitesimal amount

there's not an iota of doubt regarding the defendant's guilt

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in·fin·i·tes·i·mal (ĭn′fĭn-ĭ-tĕs′ə-məl)
1. Immeasurably or incalculably minute.
2. Mathematics Capable of having values approaching zero as a limit.
1. An immeasurably or incalculably minute amount or quantity.
2. Mathematics A function or variable continuously approaching zero as a limit.

For example,

I am truly embarrassed to be honoured for the infinitesimal effort I had contributed.

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  • Close - +1d for similar usage. – Helpful May 14 '14 at 4:01
  • You're too modest. ;-) – Erik Kowal May 14 '14 at 4:04

Amicron is indivisible, and it is a word that is creeping into IT : One of the smallest particles detectable with the electron microscope; smaller than one (1) nm and can only be seen as a diffuse illumination in the track of the beam.

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  • I like this one a lot! +1. – Helpful May 14 '14 at 4:15
  • I think we know the same people ;-) – Third News May 14 '14 at 4:23

But incidentally, effort is not discrete, it does not come in small granules.

We cannot use "a single unit of" with effort.

1.2 [mass noun] Strenuous physical or mental exertion:
achieving independence requires some effort and self-discipline

That also explains why "a modicum of effort" occurred to you, rather correctly in fact.

We may need to rephrase the whole sentence accordingly.

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"He exerted a single micron of effort to..."

micron: one millionth of a meter.

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