Language changes over time.
A classic example is the word “literally.” Originally used to describe things that were not a metaphor, it has now come to be used to describe things that are metaphorical in an exaggerated fashion.
Another interesting expression in this vein is the phrase “in a hot minute.”
How long is a “hot minute”?
The phrase “a hot minute” is typically used to mean “an extremely short period of time,” sometimes one where strong emotions are at play. Starting in the late 2000s, however, people have begun to use the phrase to refer to a long time. This means that “hot minute,” like “literally,” has two completely opposite meanings. You will have to look elsewhere in the sentence for context to figure out if any given use of the expression means “a short time” or “a long time.”
Why hot minutes are “hot”
The key to understanding the original meaning of “in a hot minute” is the word “hot.”
In addition to referring to literal heat, this word can also carry an emotional value. As the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, a person or thing who is “hot” is “passionate, zealous, eager, keen” and “hot” feelings are “very intense.”
For example, in The Three Musketeers the characters are always talking about how the swordfights they get into are “hot” (intense). Another way to think about this is the word “hot tempered,” meaning someone who becomes angry very quickly.
Originally, then, a “hot minute” referred to a period of time that was felt shorter than usual because of intense anger, passion or some other extreme emotion.
Things aren’t that simple anymore, and today “hot minute” doesn’t usually refer to emotion at all. It might not even refer to a short time.
The length of a “hot minute”
A minute, as we all know, is sixty seconds. While that doesn’t actually change in “a hot minute,” the expression implies that those sixty seconds feel a lot shorter or a lot longer.
The most common meaning is still that of a very short period of time. However, “hot minute” has also come to refer to extremely long periods of time.
A very short hot minute
As noted, the main use of “hot minute” is to refer to a very short period of time.
If someone says they will get something done “in a hot minute,” it typically means “right away” and not “sixty seconds from now.”
Likewise, someone telling a story and describing an event as taking place in “a hot minute” doesn’t mean something took sixty seconds. Rather, they mean it seemed to happen instantly or before they knew it.
When someone is using “in a hot minute” to refer to a short period of time, in other words, they mean as short a period of time as possible.
A related use of the expression is “red hot minute,” which feels even shorter or more intense.
“Although the two boxers had both trained for months, the fight was over in a hot minute.”
“Most people think 2020 lasted forever but for me it felt like only a hot minute.”
The first parts of both these sentences show clearly that the “hot minute” they refer to lasted almost no time at all.
“In a red hot minute, all the computers on the network had fallen to the hacker.”
This sentence uses “red hot” to emphasize just how quickly the cyber-attack took place.
Long hot minutes
More recently, people have used “a hot minute” to describe a long time.
It’s not clear how this started, but it probably has to do with ironic uses of the expression to joke about how long something took when it should have taken no time at all.
This is the same thing that happened with “literally,” where people began using it for non-literal things until that meaning became more prevalent than the original one.
Again, there’s no set number of seconds for a long “hot minute.” In general, though, it means a very, very long time.
“I hadn’t seen my sister in a hot minute and was amazed at how different she looked.”
“It’s been a hot minute since I was in university, so what would I know about popular hobbies?”
Like our short “hot minute” examples, these both make it clear from context that the hot minute took a long time.
How to use “in a hot minute” in a sentence
Grammatically, you can use “hot minute” is a compound noun made up of the noun “minute” and the adjective “hot.”
You use “hot minute” in a sentence just like you would the word “minute.”
That means you can put it into phrases like “in a hot minute” or “give me a hot minute” or just use it by itself.
Because the expression has two opposite meanings, it’s a good idea to add in some context that makes it clear whether your “hot minute” is a short time or a long time. However, this is optional.
“I told my kids they needed to stop making so much noise but a hot minute later they started screaming excitedly.”
In this example the meaning wouldn’t change much if it just said, “a minute later.” This shows how easy it is to use “a hot minute” in a sentence.
“The video game took a hot minute to download.”
Here, it’s unclear if this means the game downloaded quickly or slowly. More context could be added to be clear about the meaning.
Because of the ambiguity of “a hot minute,” it can be a good idea to find an alternative expression.
The simplest way to do this is to say what you mean. “Right away” is hard to misunderstand.
Metaphorically, you could also reach for expressions like “in a flash” or “in two shakes of a lamb’s tail” to mean a short time.
For long hot minutes, try using “forever” or just “in a long time.”
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.