Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘mile a minute’

A Mile A Minute

Posted by Admin on September 3, 2019

Have you ever heard someone say they were going a mile a minute but you didn’t think they were moving quite that fast? If someone is moving a mile a minute, they aren’t literally moving sixty miles per hour. They are moving very quickly and the idiom implies they are moving very quickly.

As in the idiom going like sixty, it was once believed that going faster than thirty miles per hour might kill you or drive you insane. We now know that it’s not impossible to travel at rates much faster than that and survive intact as shown by astronauts. For example, the speed needed for Apollo 11 to break free of the Earth’s gravitational field was seven miles per second which is 25,200 miles per hour (7 miles times 60 seconds times 60 minutes).

SIDE NOTE 1: Apollo 10 was clocked at 24,790 miles per hour on their way back from a lap around the Moon in 1969.

SIDE NOTE 2: The average person can handle 5 Gs which is the equivalent of 49 miles per second squared. Fighter pilots endure up to 9 Gs while wearing special compressed suits. Air Force Officer John Stapp was able to withstand 46.2 Gs.

What most people do not know is that a mile wasn’t always a mile the way a mile is defined in recent times. The medieval English mile was 6,600 feet long and the old London mile was 5,000 feet long. The Middle Ages mile in what is now Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia was an arbitrary measure that was anywhere between 3.25 and 6 English miles.

For the English, an inch was the size of 3 average size barley corns, and 12 of these inches made up a foot. Three feet was a yard, and 5 1/2 yards (16.5 feet) was known as a perch, a pole, or a rod. Forty perches or poles or rods was a furlong, and eight furlongs was a mile.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603), it was decreed that a mile was exactly 320 perches with for a total of 5,280 English feet.

SIDE NOTE 3: At the time, a French foot was 12.8 English inches, and a Spanish foot was 10.95 English inches. This is why Queen Elizabeth I decreed that a mile was measured in English feet as the English foot was 12 English inches.

It was determined during this time that a mile that could be walked in 20 minutes which made it easier for everyone to have an idea how long it would take to get from one place to another.

So somewhere between the Middle Ages and today, the idiom a mile a minute meaning the speed at which something is done made its way into the English language.

Johnny Green and His Orchestra recorded a song for the Brunswick Label in 1935. It was a snappy little jazz number titled, “A Mile A Minute” written by the Queen of Tin Pan Alley (so named by Irving Berlin) Bernice Petkere (11 August 1901 – 7 January 2000) with “Carefree” written by American lyricist Edward Hayman (14 March 1907 – 16 October 1981) and American songwriter Ray Henderson (1 December 1896 – 31 December 1970) on the B side.

SIDE NOTE 4: Johnny Green and His Orchestra sometimes recorded and performed under the alias Jimmy Garfield and His Orchestra.

The billboard advertising a ‘Brilliant Screen Adaptation of the Wonderful Novel by the Distinguished American Author, Robert W. Chambers‘ (26 May 1865 – 16 December 1933) to be shown at the Opera House in Hawera was published in the 24 October 1916 edition of the Hawera and Normanby Star newspaper on page 7. Near the bottom of the advertisement, other notices for shows at the Opera House were included including one for a 15 star artist vaudeville review titled, “Full Steam Ahead.” The teaser read:

A mile a minute, high-pressure aeroplane laugh-maker.

Not to be left out, manufacturers of the Hudson automobile came out with a 1912 Mile-A-Minute Roadster in 1912. Here’s a photo of one in 1920 with a lot of miles on the odometer.

On 29 June 1899, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle had an advertisement for the L.A.W. Meet and Cyclists’ Carnival in Patchogue (NY) featuring “Mile A Minute Murphy” who had been “paced by locomotive. Charles Minthorn Murphy (October 1870 – 16 February 1950) was an American cycling athlete. He was also the first man to ride a bicycle for one mile in under a minute.

Idiomation did not find a published version that spoke of going a kilometer a minute which means this idiom is rooted in the Imperial measurement of speed. Idiomation did, however, find out that someone can actually talk nineteen to the dozen (which sounds like an amazing feat all in itself) when talking a mile a minute, and that people who do, are often thought of as motor mouths.

It would appear that the idiom a mile a minute came into being when cars were clocked at sixty miles per hour because there’s no mention of a mile a minute before motor cars came to be — even if go like sixty existed when trains were the mode of transportation.

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