in a matter of time

Discussion in 'English Only' started by chris fos, Jan 28, 2015.

  1. chris fos

    chris fos New Member

    Hello, my friends. Is the expression "in a matter of time" correct? I think it's not. I think it's an alteration of the expression "it's a matter of time", which expression makes sense. But "in a matter of time" doesn't make sense. In "it's a matter of time", matter is used in the sense of "question", the expression meaning "it will happen sooner or later". But what would "in a matter of time" mean?! However, it is used a lot. So, what do you think?
     
  2. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    London
    English - South-East England
    Your understanding is correct, and I wouldn't understand 'in a matter of time'. However, we do use 'in' with specific time words: 'in a matter of minutes', 'in a matter of days'. These mean within a short time, no more than a few minutes or days. For example, the decision is expected to be announced in a matter of days; the emergency buildings were erected in a matter of hours.
     
  3. chris fos

    chris fos New Member

    But, my friend, this exactly is my point: "in a matter of days/minutes etc" must be wrong because how come "matter" has the meaning of "short" or "few"? My guess is that the expression "in a matter of hours/minutes etc" came about as the result of a misunderstanding, i.e. of a mistaken alteration of the expression "it's amatter of time/minutes etc". (In the expression "it is a matter of time", matter means question, not "few/little".)
     
  4. Franco-filly Senior Member

    Southern England
    English - Southern England
    See definition of matter from thefreedictionary:

    8. An approximated quantity, amount, or extent: The construction will last a matter of years.
     
  5. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    London
    English - South-East England
    Oh, you want etymology. 'Matter' has (and has had) so many vague and abstract shades of meaning, that no use of it would be surprising. Specifically, from about 1600 it was used to mean an amount, usually small amount: '[He] sold them their liberties for a small matter'; 'They can live upon a small matter; and provided they have Rice [etc.].' From around 1650 we find it used with numeric or monetary amounts: '[He] lets him have a great deal of it for a matter of a shilling'; 'Accompanied with a matter of seven hundred men.' The OED's first quote with a time word is from 1701: 'In the matter of five Days he got six Nuns with Child, and left 'em to provide for their Heretick Bastards.'
     
  6. chris fos

    chris fos New Member

    Franco-filly and entangledbank, thank you for your replies. You have covered my question completely. Actually, I hadn't seen in the dictionary that matter has also the meaning of number/amount; it was inadvertent of me. Also, even when I saw it, thanks to Franco-filly reference to thefreedictionary, I still had some reservations but after entangledbank's reference to OED's quote dating back to 1701 I was fully covered. Thanks again.
     

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