If you’re familiar with German, you’ve surely heard the phrase “einen Augenblick!” But an Augenblick (literally “eye-glance”) is usually a longer period of time than the word suggests. The word Augenblick comes from Auge (“eye”) and Blick (“glance”). It defines a very short period of time (like the glance of an eye). The best English equivalent is “blink of an eye”, but the English language does not have a single word to describe a very short moment. In German, a cashier might tell a customer to wait one moment while she checks the price of an item. In German she may say, “einen Augenblick!”. In English, however, you cannot say “wait for a blink of an eye”; it does not make sense. You could perhaps say “wait one second”, but the metaphor of an eye-blink/glance would not exist here.
As we all know, Germans love metaphors. Most likely, if you are telling someone to wait for an Augenblick, you don’t mean it literally. A blink of an eye takes 300 to 400 milliseconds (which is about one-third of a second). A glance can be a little longer, but it is not defined. If you’re asking someone to wait einen Augenblick for you while you finish tying your shoes or while you respond to an e-mail, you are ensuring them that you will be quick, but realistically, you will take at least several seconds or minutes. Comparatively though, einen Augenblick is faster that ein Moment. An Augenblick is the fastest way a “short moment” can be described in German.
By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany