MAGIC MOMENTS [293]

Allow me to take a moment of your time to tell you that, once upon a time, a “moment” was an actual, measurable period of time, equivalent to one minute, thirty seconds. 

From the eighth to the thirteenth century, at a time when people still relied on sundials to tell the time, the writings of the Venerable Bede detailed how hours were broken into four points, named “puncta,” and each of those were made of ten “momenta,” from the Latin for “moving,” as in the word “momentum.” These divisions were made in order to complete various calculations, particularly in astronomy, but would not have been used by the wider public, whose main indicators of time remained sunrise, sunset, and church bells.

 

This usage fell out of favour when the advent of mechanical clocks in the thirteenth century standardised the length of an hour, no longer reliant on the sun. Counting up to sixty was present in ancient civilisations even before the Babylonians, but it was the Iranian scholar Al-Biruni, in around 1000 AD, who is credited with first describing how to divide hours into minutes, seconds, thirds and fourths. 

 

Ninety seconds is usually enough time to produce a summary of practically everything you need, particularly of the day’s events. Until recently, BBC One ran a ninety-second news bulletin at 8pm, making it the most-watched bulletin in the country, and even back in the 1970s, WPVI’s “Action News,” Deleware Valley’s leading news programme, capped news stories at ninety seconds both to cram in more stories, and to keep the pace up. I get where they’re coming from.

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