What term is commonly used in scientific vocabulary for "characteristic time", i.e. for typical time of some process?

We suppose process is not periodical, and "period" does not fit that well.

Usage example: "characteristic time" of continental drift
Which may refer to time around 150 million years which is enough to completely change visual view of continents.

  • 1
    What's wrong with "typical time" (or perhaps "typical elapsed time")?
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 15, 2020 at 2:38
  • Is it TAT (Turn-around time)? ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2282400
    – Ram Pillai
    Mar 15, 2020 at 2:44
  • 1
    @RamPillai - "Turn-around time" is how long it takes to move the locomotive to the opposite end of the train.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 15, 2020 at 13:01
  • 1
    If you don't like 'time' you could use 'typical duration' in many cases.
    – BoldBen
    Mar 15, 2020 at 15:29
  • They both seem to be slightly better than "characteristic time", but at the same time in Russian "characteristic time" have very distinctive meaning. If you search in google you will find much more specific answers on non-common words.
    – halt9k
    Mar 16, 2020 at 3:20

1 Answer 1


Characteristic time is often used in models where there is exponential decay. It is the time taken for the decaying quantity to fall by a factor of 1/e.

More generally, there is scale time, which refers generically to the units you might use to describe the changes taking place.

The wikipedia has some examples: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_scale

  • This is very nice answer, and so far closest to what I hoped. Can't vote yet, but will mark it as accepted if there will be no alternatives.
    – halt9k
    Mar 16, 2020 at 3:23

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