From one moment to the next

Posted by R. Berg on September 01, 2001

In Reply to: From one moment to the next posted by Denis on September 01, 2001

: Does anybody know the exact meaning of the phrase "from one moment (minute, day, etc.) to the next"?
: I am Russian and I have seen it many times in English texts but can't find it in dictionaries.
: Example about a person who often changes his behavior patterns: "You can't tell who he is from one minute to the next."

Your quoted example simply means exactly what you said, that the person often changes his behavior patterns. He changes them so often that he seems to be a different person at the present moment than the person he was a moment earlier. As a scientist would put it, what is observed at time t + 1 min differs from what was observed at time t.

Another example: "That bakery changes its prices so often that I never know what to pay for a loaf of bread from one day to the next." One says that if the price of bread goes up from Monday to Tuesday, down on Wednesday, down a little more on Thursday, back up on Friday, and so on.

These phrases can be used to express constancy rather than change: "From one year to the next, my grandmother wore the same old black dress everywhere she went."

Understanding "from one ___ to the next" comes naturally to native English speakers. I don't know the Russian language, and it may be that the concept of time is treated differently there. These phrases depend on a spatial metaphor for time, as if, when we "moved through" successive days, they were points along a road, and we "walked" from Monday to Tuesday, then farther on to Wednesday, and then to Thursday . . . Literally, of course, we don't go anywhere. I suppose it would make just as much sense to think of ourselves as standing still on Monday and waiting for Tuesday to come to us--or some other way of thinking of it entirely.