How patiently can we measure time?

“One moment please!” I can still hear Lily Tomlin saying that line on the Laugh-In show when she played the obnoxious telephone operator Ernestine. Her voice was dripping with sarcasm and we all knew that it was going to be a heck of a lot longer than one moment. Come to think of it, we generally know it will be a lot longer than “one” moment whenever someone says: “One moment please.”

What is one moment anyway? One definition of the word moment is: “an indefinitely short period of time.” If you read this definition carefully, you will notice a “catch” word. Do you see it? Right! It is the word “indefinitely!” There is no real specification to this word as when someone says one minute or even one second. We know these latter are unreal specifications, but they are still definite. With the phase “one moment please”, we do not have any specification. Is one moment shorter than two moments or ten moments? This would all depend on the length of a moment, which has no definition. Thus, one moment becomes a sort of carte blanche to be as long as one likes. Imagine, calling in late to your company and saying “Sorry I am going to be late, I will be there in one moment.” What would your boss reply? He/she would probably not know what to say. Or else, it might not be something you would not like to hear.

We might all be more patient and then the words “one moment please” would be easier to tolerate. We could then reply to the Ernestines of the world with “No problem.” How long a moment can you be patient with? What do you say when someone tells you they will just be “one moment?” What would you really like to say? Perhaps you are a very patient person and one moment is very easy to deal with.

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