Jiffy: A short space of time; a moment. The origin of the word is uncertain; some sources speculate that it came from thieves' slang for "lightning." It was first seen in print in 1785.
In addition to its informal meaning, jiffy has several formal scientific definitions. The American chemist Gilbert Newton Lewis (1875–1946) was the first person to suggest jiffy as a unit of measurement; his definition was "the time it takes light to travel one centimeter." Other specialized definitions of jiffy include:
- The time between alternating current power cycles, 1/60 or 1/50 of a second in most countries. (Electronics.)
- The time it takes for light to travel one fermi, which is the size of a nucleon. (Astrophysics and quantum physics.)
- The duration of one tick of the system timer interrupt. It is not an absolute time interval unit, since its duration depends on the clock interrupt frequency of the particular hardware platform. (Computing.)
"Jiffy" is also a popular brand name; I found 113 live registrations for trademarks that include the term. A few of the best known:
- "Jiffy" Mix, registered to the Chelsea Milling Company of Chelsea, Michigan. The company claims that "Jiffy" Mix, which was introduced in 1930, was the first prepared baking mix sold in the United States. The company's current president, Howdy S. Holmes, is the grandson of the product's developer, Mabel White Holmes.*
- Jiffy Pop, a brand of pop-in-pan popcorn introduced by Mennen Food Products in 1959. Mennen was sued for patent infringement in the 1960s by Taylor-Reed Corporation, makers of an earlier pop-in-pan popcorn, E-Z Pop; Taylor-Reed prevailed, but the case was overturned on appeal. Jiffy Pop is currently owned by ConAgra Foods.
- Jiffy Lube, founded in 1979 as the first drive-through oil-change service. The company is now a subsidiary of Shell Oil Company.
My research also turned up Jiffy Group, a global horticultural/agricultural supply company based in Norway. Its subsidiaries include McKenzie Seeds, Ferry-Morse Seed Company, and . . . Tref. Apparently no one consulted a Yiddish or Hebrew dictionary when naming that last company.
* Yes, I included that information just so I could type "Howdy S. Holmes."