It’s About Time

C’mon (come on), it’s time to go. We’re gonna (going to) be late.”
Just a second (wait a short time), I can’t find my keys.”

“Just a second” is a common time phrase. It’s also the title of an interesting new children’s book by Steve Jenkins. The book’s full title is Just a Second: A Different Way to Look at Time.

The second is interesting, Jenkins writes, because it “doesn’t relate to (isn’t connected to) any cycle (something that continues to happen) in nature – it’s a human invention (created by humans), and the shortest interval (unit or period) of time most of us use in our daily lives. The Babylonians came up with the idea of the second about 4,000 years ago, but they had no way to measure such a short interval of time.”

Maybe the Babylonians couldn’t come up with (think of) a way to measure a second, but Jenkins has. He’s done it by filling this fun little book with examples of things that happen in one second. Here are some of them:

In one second, “a meteor (rock from space) entering Earth’s atmosphere (air around the earth) can travel 44 miles (71 kilometers), a human can blink (shut and open eyes) seven times, a humpback whale‘s song travels 5,085 feet (1,500 meters) through water, and light travels 186,000 miles (300,000 kilometers).”

In one second, “a hummingbird beats (move together and apart) its wings 50 times, a bumblebee beats its wings 200 times, a midge, a kind of gnat (very small flying insect), beats its wings 1,000 times, a woodpecker hammers (hits hard) a tree trunk with its beak (hard pointed nose) 20 times, and a rattlesnake shakes its tail in warning (sign of danger) 60 times.”

In one second, “a cheetah sprinting (running a short distance) flat out (as fast as possible) and a sailfish swimming at top (highest; fastest) speed both travel 100 feet (30 meters), a dragonfly cruises (flies casually) 50 feet, a very fast human can run 39 feet (12 meters), and a black mamba snake slithers (slides over a surface by moving back and forth) a frightening 24 feet (7 meters).”

In one second, “the Apollo 10 spacecraft traveled almost seven miles (11 kilometers) during reentry (when it came back into Earth’s atmosphere) – the fastest humans have traveled in a man-made vehicle.” In one second, “Earth advances (goes forward) 18.5 miles (30 kilometers) in its orbit (circular path) around the sun, while four babies are born, and two people die.”

Sometimes time flies (goes very quickly). But time can also move very slowly. A science blog called It’s Okay to Be Smart recently featured (included or showed) an infographic (information picture) about geologic time – the history of the development of the earth. It’s what we might call very slow time.

The infographic includes more than three eras (very long periods of history) of earth history, about 4.6-billion years. If you want to compare that to Jenkins’ book, that’s more than 145,000,000,000,000,000 seconds (if my math is correct)!

What happened during this long period of time? Some scientists believe that at first there was only one continent (large mass of land surrounded by ocean), called Pangea. Later Pangea split (broke or divided) into two parts, north and south. Eventually (after a long time) those two parts split again into the seven continents we have today. And that took only 250-million years – a relatively (compared to the total) short time.

By the way, the title of this blog post contains a little time joke. The blog is about time, so it’s a good description, a good title. But we also use “it’s about time” another way. If someone is late coming to an appointment or finishing a project, when they finally arrive or finish, we sometimes say (and not too happily), “It’s about time!”

And now, it’s about (almost) time for me to stop.

If you’re interested, you can read more about Just a second at the New York Times or Brain Pickings web sites.

~ Warren Ediger, creator of Succesful English, where you’ll find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

The hourglass photo is courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

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21 Responses to It’s About Time

  1. Peter says:

    And the Oscar goes to :
    ” it is about time ” composed by Warren Ediger.

    You ,and your articles.
    I love to see you in person. You struck me as one of those cool guys who wear get-ups like always,and there is this air of “funkiness ”
    about them.
    Man ,cool article
    I anyways wante to know about woodpecker record on hitting the trunk of the tree.

    Super cool article
    YOur post is sick!!!

  2. sam kamal says:

    reading this article really shows me that i have many things still to learn.
    some of the words here i have never seen in my entire life.
    thanks a lot

  3. Myo ko ko says:

    I’m science guy. I mean I like science. ( Like a dog guy likes to adopt dogs. 😉 )
    In this post, you touch it a bit…huh?
    This book seems interesting for kids.
    Thanks Warren for this post.
    I always keep my eyes on breaking news from science world.
    And you know? The idea of “time machine” is fantastic!

    Well, it is about time for me, too, to stop. I’m running late for my date!
    Just kidding, I have no valentine. True story. 😉

  4. Richard says:

    It is time for me to write somethings again.This blog post tell us how many things have happen during a second and how short a second.Indeed, compare with geologic time lifetime is so short that we every one should value and enjoy everyday.Shouldn’t it? Of course, we really have a lot interesting things should be done.we can travel everywhere and tast different kind of foods and see interesting scenic ect.Enjoy everthing we meet and love it.Keep the active and positive mood the time will be became longer.

  5. Dan says:

    Hello Guys,

    This post remainds me how incredible and beautiful nature is and how fortunate we are living on this Planet.
    Thing that we take for granted.

    If I rember it well, when the Big Bang occurred in just one second the Universe was the size of our Solar system.


    Yes my name is Daniel

    I have never skyped

    The headphones are not expensive, you can get a pair for less than 50 bucks.
    I bought mine on the Sony store online.

  6. emiliano says:

    Such a lot of new words, thank you Warren.

    Another aspect of time could be its relativeness for us humans.

    Having in mind that a second has its exact theoric measurement and in a second could
    happened so many movements or things like you have said us above, the real subject
    is that a second, a minute, an hour or a day could have an absolute different
    measurement in our mind or our life depending the situation we are living through.
    The perception of time is something completely subjective for us, humans.
    Having a good time it pass too fast, and hour seems to be ten minutes or less.
    Just in a moment we look to the watch and thousands of minutes have pass
    without being conscious about the time.
    Awaiting ten minutes seem to be an houre, an hour it could be an eternety
    and so forth.

    Never we could be so objective as to measure the real proportion of time
    without joining it to our real life.
    To me that is the magic of time, of our real time.

    All living creatures have their own time that use to be absolutely different
    from the other.

    Thanks a lot dear Warren, I need to read your post several times to catch
    all the ideas and words.


  7. sergio says:

    Dear Warren,
    thank you very much for your funny and elegant tale…
    Next year, the first time I’ll speak about lenght, mass and time,
    defining the second I’ll read to my students “It’s about time”!
    I’m not joking…
    My best regards,
    P.S. Oops, you forgot the very definition of the second:
    “the second is defined as 9 192 631 700 times the period
    of oscillation of radiation from the cesium atom”. But yours…
    are definitely more attractive…

  8. Betty says:

    Thank you very much, Warren, for this excellent account of ‘time’.

    It is about time for me to finish my packing for moving. But I have decided to spend some time here instead to express my gratitude to you.

    Your article is very, very good and useful for me. One day I will tell a story about ‘Just a Second’ to my old father or some little children if they are as attentive as my father when listening to my stories.

    It is just a shame that we do not have an audio for your article. Very often I can remember the meanings and spellings of English words, but I do not know how to pronounce them.

    Your article has many words which I wish I know how to pronounce them.

    Thanks again, Warren, you are a very kind teacher.

    Betty 🙂

  9. Betty says:

    Thanks, Dan

    I will look up the wireless headphone and will buy one. I need to use a headphone in order not to disturb other members of my family. 😉


    I like reading your messages because almost without exception, every message your write here is a Physics lesson in itself. 😉


    I have a lot to do, but I shall catch up with you all a few days later. 🙂

  10. Peter says:

    Dear Warren,
    See,I was right!
    Seems like I spoke for everybody when I said previously that :
    (And Oscar goes to “it is about time.”….:))
    Seems like it is not just me , everybody is impressed by your rich , well-composed post.

    You are very resourceful man. How on earth did you managed to cull this miscellaneous collection of information.

    I bet , it took you forever!
    Thanks for the effort man.
    Optimum use of words by the way. Kudose on that.

  11. Dan says:

    Sig. Sergio

    Do we have a device that counts atoms’ oscillations?
    How is it called? Is that an atomic watch?

    Grazie in advance.

  12. Myo ko ko says:

    I don’t think listening to ESL podcasts while one is doing something else is a good idea.
    You know, all ESL podcasts’ scripts are full of a great deal of learning materials for us!
    If you miss Jeff explaining the script for “one second”, it would mean you’ve missed something valuable.
    I am speaking from experience,
    Take the podcasts seriously!
    Don’t try to listen to them while you are working or doing household chores.
    If you do, it means you’re missing many things that Jeff and Lucy give you or
    in other words, you are not picking the language up!

    Focus on them. Pay attention to them.
    Put some time aside for the podcasts if you’re serious about the English.
    If you do, you’ll thank me later.

    But I almost forget to say,
    It is possible to listen to them while you’re commuting, because you can concentrate on Jeff’s explanations.
    No offense, friend.
    This is my two cents. 😉

  13. Peter says:

    You better hire a secretary to handle you correspondences. You have become like celebrity blog.;))))
    Seems like you have established some good report with the members Of the blog.

    Nice going

  14. Peter says:

    Warren ,
    Amazing , when one goes through you post, one feels like he/she is reading a heavy book. I mean the post itself is short ,but it gives off the vibe, I mean it has the vibe of a very rich heavy movie.
    I mean, I read the article three times already, still I get this feeling in the end ,that I have read 100 pages in the least.
    The post is very dense which is a good thing.
    To me, your latest post ” it is about time ” tops all the posts have been rendered up-to-now combined.
    I really enjoyed your piece.
    I copied pased it into my archive where I keep all the posts that interest me.
    In fact ,the Post “it is about time” is the head of my archive now.

    Keep up the good work my man

    The bonehead:))

  15. Peter says:

    Your P.S. part of your comment is sick!
    Is the number you put up there is real?

    Are you one of those brainy people?

    Cool !!!!

  16. steven says:

    Thanks .

    I would like to join in your team to learn English.

  17. emiliano says:

    Always talking about books, but once we speak about “time” a book comes suddenly to
    my mind.
    “The Magic Mountain” of Thomas Mann where “time” is treated as another character in
    the novel.

    To me one of the best novels I ever have read and despite being so long I have
    read it twice.
    If you see the wiki in English what it said about the novel at the end of the article
    treats what the author wrote in the novel about “time”.
    Sergio you are a phenomenon by all means, please do not tell me you have all
    the numbers in your mind.
    Is it so?


  18. Peter says:

    Very wise insight ,on your part.
    I m with on that like 100 percent.
    Man , it so true.
    When I am listening to Jeff , I tune out everything, even all hot passer-by girls:))
    Listening to Jeff, I give it a 110.

    But,the thing is, I have flight of ideas, so it is not easy for me to stay focused.
    I push the limit ,though.
    You are dead-on Myo

  19. sara says:

    Dear Warren
    I loved it as always I do,thanks for it.

  20. sergio says:

    Thank you, but you’re too gentle, I don’t deserve your appreciations…

    Scientists can actually count these huge numbers (another ex., they know using lasers that the light makes 1 metre in 1/299792458 second!)…

    Oh, the number is true – me? I’m only a teacher (don’t shoot me!)…

    I like uncertainty: about that I simply remember 9 billion oscillations: it’s enough I suppose…


  21. Tania says:

    Hi! After the ladybird, the dragonfly is the insect I admire very much. It is so graceful…
    Thank you for all photos, but in my opinion those with dragonflies are very nice and interesting.
    Interesting topic. And the title…the same phrase with three meanings…

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