I am translating from Middle Egyptian to English. For those who are curious, here is the hieroglyphic inscription:

iw smA.n.f mAw 7, m stt, m km n(y) At.

However, this is not a question about Middle Egyptian, but rather English. The sentence literally translates to:

He killed seven lions, by shooting, in the completion of an instant.

Or perhaps "in the completion of a moment" meaning "a short interval of time". Of course, this is not an English idiom, so I have changed it to:

He killed seven lions in the blink of an eye, by shooting them.

However, the expression "in the blink of an eye" seems a bit colloquial to me, although, I am not a native speaker of English. I would like to substitute it with something equally idiomatic, but with a grandiose, majestic, formal and maybe even slightly archaic feeling to it, to reflect the character of the original text, which is carefully composed and somewhat high-flown. Nothing comes to mind, though.

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    'In the blink of an eye' is not particularly colloquial. I immediately thought of the Bible passage (1 Corinthians 15:52) in which the King James version and others use the expression 'in the twinkling of an eye', and more modern versions use 'blink'. Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 13:47
  • "In the blink of an eye" is a bit of a hyperbolic metaphor, and a bit of a tired cliche. I'd recommend avoiding both of those effect and using something prosaic, literal, and fairly natural: "in a single moment". I assume that the intent of the original is that it took him only one moment, not two or thee, to complete the task. Perhaps even "in but a single moment" to keep things old-fashioned and emphatic. Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 14:37
  • "In the twinkling of an eye" sounds wonderful! I think I'll use that one.
    – Kresimir
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 15:07
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    It sounds like The Brave Little Tailor's "seven at one blow", especially if he did it with just one projectile (bullet, arrow, rock, etc).
    – Lawrence
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 15:08
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    Just like Lawrence, that line took me right to The Brave Little Tailor’s "seven at one blow". If this were only about English “In the blink of an eye” might fit simply for its sounds: like “flash” or “instant”, all short and sharp and hard, as an arrow-strike might be. Alternatively, “In a heartbeat” keeps the pace and throbs with passion. It’s not about English, is it? Where does a translator find licence to turn “He killed seven lions, by shooting, in the completion of an instant” into “He killed seven lions, in the completion of an instant, by shooting them”? More… Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 20:26

4 Answers 4


Actually, we do idiomatically say "In an instant" in English. We just do not put "the completion of" in front of it. This measure of time is indivisible and immediate anyway, so that would not make much sense. See the Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia s.v. instant II 2:

A point in duration; a moment; very small period or interval of time: as, he will return in an instant

This gracious all-commanding beautfy fades in an instant. Burton, Anat. of Mel. P. 536

An instant … is that which takes up the time of only one idea in our minds without succession of another, wherein therefore we perceive no succession at all.. Locke, Human Understanding, II, xiv. 10.

Now, perhaps I misunderstood and you only meant that the latter two idioms are not said in English, but you might want to reconsider this form even if you dismissed it. Since it is less direct than instantly, instantaneously or immediately, it does have a slightly fanciful connotation to it.

The term has been with us since at least the 17th century, as demonstrated by An Apologie of the Power and Providence, which was written by George Hake and published in 1635. The phrase is used four times on page 34 and at least twice in this single sentence:

Now as all creation is immediately by the hand of god soe is it undoubtedly in an instant which is one of the special conditions and properties whereby it is distinguished from generation, the latter requiring time for perfecting thereof, at leastwise in regard of the previous disposition thereunto, though the introduction of the forme bee indeed in an instant, but the former requires no time because it works without all motion or preparative alteration.

It also works quite well to describe feats of heroism as demonstrated by these contexts:

In an instant, Robin, in whose generous heart the feeling of hate had no place, bounded to his rescue. He seized the tail of the tiger and struck him a tremendous blow with his stake."

The Crusoes of Guiana: Or, The White Tiger by Louis Boussenard

For a moment the two men looked into each other's eyes, with hatred like a naked sword between them; and then Guy of Gisborne laughed exultantly and cried out: ' You were ever a fine bowman, but I think you have loosed your last arrow—Robin Hood!'

In an instant robin had sprung to his feet and turned to leap down the steps. Behind him he heard a bellow of astonished rage from the sheriff, and the voice of his old enemy shouting to the men-at-arms to shake him.

The Chronicles of Robin Hood by Rosemary Sutcliff

And why would he, when he could simply fumble in his sunflower-yellow utility belt and produce a gadget that would save him in an instant?

News Statesman, Limited, 2005, page 29, in reference to Batman.

Granted, there are more mundane contexts in which this word can be used too, but I suppose you can see how this usage is fitting. It also seems to be as close of a match to the literal translation you gave as possible, which can help avoid adding unintended connotations to the translation.

Compare with in a jiffy which has effectively the same meaning, except usually more informal and perhaps slangy, despite some niche technical uses, lending to the comparative formality of in an instant. Jiffy is more likely to be used by mechanics than in reference to heroes.

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    Jiffy is informal, but it isn't slangy. In fact, it's a very specific measurement of time. 33.3 picoseconds, or rather, the amount of time it takes light to travel one centimeter in a vacuum.
    – Oxymoron
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 17:05
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    @oxymoron Hmm, it seems like there are a few technical meanings of jiffy I did not know and maybe that warrants a slight edit, but it seems like the most commonly accepted theory regarding its origination is that was thieves' slang for lightning. The 33.3 picosecond definition is newer, and I doubt it is the commonplace meaning. We have a fascinating question dedicated to trying to pinpoint its true origin.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 20:26
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    @Oxymoron, thank you for that definition of a jiffy. I am a physicist, and I've never heard of a light centimeter being referred to as a jiffy, for some reason. I learnt another new and unusual thing today!
    – Kresimir
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 22:22
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    @Kresimir don't assume that definition of jiffy is at all widely accepted. See the final link in Tonepoet's comment, and also Wikipedia which provides multiple divergent definitions based on light travel. Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 11:06
  • @Chappo, yes I know. That's probably why I haven't heard of it, even though I'm a physicist. Thanks for the warning, though! :)
    – Kresimir
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 11:09

Here are two suggestions:

In a wink1

The very brief time required for a wink; an instant.in the wink of an eye So quickly as to seem almost imperceptible

In a flash2 (an idiom):

Immediately; very quickly; at once.

Both connote instantaneity! Instantaneity3 may work too! The newer generation of humankind like to say in a nanosec!


1 The American Heritage Dictionary Fifth Edition
2 The Farlex Dictionary of Idioms
3 The American Heritage Dictionary 5th edition s.v. Instantaneous

All via The Free Dictionary by Farlex.


There is also "in no time"

no time
A very short interval or period.
‘the renovations were done in no time’

Oxford Dictionaries


The best idiom I can come up with is "in a split second". An instant isn't a explicit definition of time, such as a "jiffy". It's subjective, it can be minutes, seconds, or fraction of a second. Given the context, I think the fraction of a second is the best measurement and so "in a split second" fits best in my opinion.

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