November 06, 2003

Ask Jen

Jim wants to know, "Where does 'In a jiffy' come from?"

This one I am not sure I can explain...jiffy is in the dictionary as meaning a "moment or instant" but the etymology is listed by Webster as unknown. None of my cliche sources have it listed. One source says jiffy used to be thieves' slang for "lightning." The reputability of this source is questionable, but it sounds good. :-)

Daniel asks, "When is the Feast of Stephen and who is this Stephen guy anyway?"

St. Stephen's feastday is the day after Christmas Day. He was apparently the first Christian martyr, and if you want to read the Catholic church's story about him, try here. Religion gives me a headache. (ducking)

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at November 6, 2003 12:05 AM


"2. Confusingly, the term is sometimes also used for a
1-millisecond wall time interval. Even more confusingly,
physicists semi-jokingly use "jiffy" to mean the time required
for light to travel one foot in a vacuum, which turns out to
be close to one *nanosecond*."

Being a physicist, I've seen "jiffy" used to denote the last entry you see, the time for light to travel 1 foot in a vacuum. Despite what the dictionary lists as the standard usage meaning, I'm fairly certain that the word "jiffy" has its origins in science. I'll have to dig my old quantum physics texts out of mothballs to be certain, though.

Posted by: physics geek at November 6, 2003 08:16 AM

One final note on this subject: this question/answer was on Jeopardy one night. The answer was "The time for light to travel one foot in vacuum". The question was "what is a jiffy?"

Posted by: physics geek at November 6, 2003 08:19 AM