I'm currently working on translation of George Meredith's Diana of the Crossways (published in 1885). Here's one passage that I find especially challenging. I would be very grateful if someone could explain me the meaning of the expression "give them just the start over the frozen minute for conversation", most importantly "frozen minute" (I might be able to understand the rest of the expression if I understand these two words). Does the word frozen refer to some awkwardness two strangers might be experiencing?

At a Ball in Dublin, two men want to dance with Diana; both are unsuccessful, and she is led out by Mr. Redworth, an acquaintance of her friend Emma (who actually arranges it). One of the disapponted gentlemen tells Emma:

"'Favour can't help coming by rotation, except in very extraordinary circumstances, and he was ahead of me with you, and takes my due, and 'twould be hard on me if I weren't thoroughly indemnified.' Mr. Sullivan Smith bowed. 'You gave them just the start over the frozen minute for conversation; they were total strangers, and he doesn't appear a bad sort of fellow for a temporary mate, though he's not perfectly sure of his legs."

Thank you in advance!

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    Not an expression I've heard before either, but the meaning does seem to be that there is a ‘frozen’ minute when strangers meet, when they try to figure each other out and make conversation. In this case Emma, being a mutual acquaintance, gave Diana and Mr Redworth a ‘start’, a way to skip that ‘frozen’ minute by having a middle man they can both relate to. That's why Mr Redworth was ahead of the gentleman scorned who's now talking to Emma. Or at least that would be my understanding without looking into it any further. Jul 31, 2016 at 10:57
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    The 'breaking the ice' metaphor? Jul 31, 2016 at 11:17
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    Purely in the context of the passage, another possible interpreation would be, the awkward first moment when strangers meet. which can sometimes be icy, not really knowing what to say etc. That minute may well have been described as 'frozen' - which links in with Edwin's 'breaking the ice' idea.
    – Gary
    Jul 31, 2016 at 19:29

2 Answers 2


You seem to have come upon some 19th century slang that hasn't survived. There are a few instances of the phrase that I was able to find and it's used in a variety of ways, not just one set meaning:

A Stiff-necked Generation By Lucy Bethia Walford

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Seed of the Sun By Wallace Irwin

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The Cornell Era Vol XXX edited by Henry Myers Bellinger et. al

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Prison Screw by Leonard William Merrow Smith

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The Saturday Evening Post, Volume 180, Issue 2

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Most generally it seems to describe the feeling you get when time stands still because of nervousness or fear during an unsettling situation.

time stands still idiom

Cambridge dictionary

When time stands still, everything around you seems to stop:

I saw the car coming straight towards me, and for a moment time stood still.

In one of the other sources above, "frozen minute" seems to also describe the awkwardness of conversations where you don't know what to say, and it seems to last forever.

In the second to last source, "frozen minute" describes the time of suprise or petrification after a crash, allowing the criminals to capitalize on the victims' vulnerability.

In the last source, "frozen minute" is used in a completely different sense, to explain that just a minute on the dangerous rapids would be intolerable, because it would feel a lot longer due to the coldness of the water.

However, in the source in your description, "frozen minute" is used in the sense of "awkward conversation" that's found in the third source above: "...the frozen minute following an introduction? We seem to be experiencing its full iciness."


“frozen minute” here to my mind means the minute when the two just individuals just froze, as if they were 2 ice-blocks-the time when they stood shocked, bewildered, hammered. People take years to come to truly accept that their beloved person is no more. There is a Hindi poem which means in English " I really do not know why that crucial moment of my life did not move ahead, why did it just stand (dumbfounded) all night." ( Poet Gulzar)

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    How is that supposed to answer the question? The majority of this answer is completely unrelated to the question, and the rest would appear to misunderstand the phrase being asked about. Jul 31, 2016 at 15:42
  • I humbly disagree. The answer was pertinent and logical. Why not give a better answer yourself ?
    – Abhilaaj
    Aug 1, 2016 at 4:56
  • Because Bobby V0ight already gave an excellent one. Aug 1, 2016 at 5:00

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