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Unsolved mystery

Posted by ESC on September 16, 2003

In Reply to: "In a Jiffy" posted by James Briggs on September 16, 2003

: : : To do something or get somewhere "in a jiffy", meaning to get there quickly or to do a task expediently. What is a "Jiffy?"
: : : Thanks

: : Merriam-Webster doesn't have an origin. Some other reference might.

: : Main Entry: jif·fy
: : Pronunciation: 'ji-fE
: : Function: noun
: : Inflected Form(s): plural jiffies
: : Etymology: origin unknown
: : Date: 1779

: The Oxford English Dictionary says "Origin unascertained". The earliest use it gives is from Munchhausen's Travels : "In six jiffies I found myself and all my retinue . . . at the rock of Gibralter [sic]". I'm told that the term was taken into the scientific community late in the 20th century and was actually applied as a unit of time; however the unit seems to vary from discipline to discipline!

"jiffy, adj. 1785, a very short space of time; of unknown origins." (From "The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology: the Origins of American English Words" by Robert K. Barnhart, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1988.)

See also: the meaning and origin of 'in a jiffy'.