Does "take a second" mean "take a second look"?



This one drives me insane, and it’s become extremely common among bloggers. All it takes to avoid this error is to take a second and think about what you’re trying to say.


I suppose that in the sentence "a look" is missing ("take a second look"). Is this kind of omission of the noun widespread in English?


Posted 2015-10-12T18:39:46.663

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There is a cockney rhyming slang for 'take a butchers' which means 'take a look' which is the only reason I can think of for confusing these two sentences otherwise they're entirely separate.

– icc97 – 2015-10-13T10:55:07.073

@icc97 specifically its "butcher's hook" == "look" so "have a butcher's" would fit as well. – Criggie – 2015-10-13T21:35:59.150

1The confusion is caused by the ambiguity in the word "second". Did you know that the etymology is from the original Greek where the hour was divided into sixty "minute" parts, and each of these parts were subdivided into sixty smaller parts again, i.e. a "second" subdivision into smaller parts. – Mr Lister – 2015-10-14T15:25:21.977

Did I say Greek? Sorry, Latin. – Mr Lister – 2015-10-15T08:05:12.157



I interpret the example sentence as meaning "take a second" (of the author's time). It does not omit a noun.


Posted 2015-10-12T18:39:46.663

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38I think you’re hedging too much when you note this as your interpretation – this is the one, true, correct answer to the question, so there is no need to suggest otherwise. It may leave learners thinking that other possibilities exist where none do. – KRyan – 2015-10-12T19:29:00.917

7Other possibilities exist, @KRyan. Consider: "Many people miss this error at first glance. Take a second in order to catch it." Here, "take a second" is a coherent phrase but "second" more likely means glance number two. Or, "That was a good cookie. I'd like to have a second." The phrase "take a second" does not always mean "take a small fraction of a minute", and the omission of the otherwise-repeated relevant noun (glance, cookie, or whatever) is quite common. In OP's example, there's no mention of a first, so "second" more likely means a unit of time rather than an ordinal number. – Gary Botnovcan – 2015-10-12T20:06:42.940

13@GaryBotnovcan There is a specific quote provided here, which is not those quotes. Yes, context is king and yes sometimes “take a second” could be referring to a look, but that’s not true of the example given. – KRyan – 2015-10-12T20:12:51.503

@GaryBotnovcan True there may be other possibilities, but I think 99% of the time people would agree with the interpretation of this answer. – Andy – 2015-10-13T01:05:07.797

2@GaryBotnovcan Even in your example, it to refers to time - instead of a short glance, have a longer look – Izkata – 2015-10-13T14:19:15.333

1Agreed - it expands to "take your time and thing about this for a short period" and there is an implied suggestion to think about the problem from the other side or from another point of view. – Criggie – 2015-10-13T21:38:45.453

To be completely fair (and completely truthful), there is a noun omitted, but that noun is "minute". What we now call a second was originally a "second minute" (or a sixtieth part of a sixtieth part) of an hour. (It's the same with minutes and seconds of a degree in angular measurement.) You would need to go a long way back in the literature to find anyone using "second minute", though. – Stan Rogers – 2015-10-14T02:59:29.053

@GaryBotnovcan, In order for "second" to refer to a "second glance" in your example, you need to add some kind of pronoun as a placeholder: "Many people miss this error at first glance. Take a second one in order to catch it." – The Photon – 2015-10-14T17:18:34.123


Take a second is a phrase that is used to emphasise how quickly something of comparatively great benefit can be done. It's often used in the phrase "it'll only take a second".

It is used to encourage someone to do something they might not necessarily want to do. In your example, writers are being implored to think about what they are trying to say. The benefit if they take a second to do this is that they'll avoid an error that is extremely common amongst bloggers.

Graham Nicol

Posted 2015-10-12T18:39:46.663

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I completely overlooked that "second" can be the noun. And having in my mind the phrase "take a second look" I was a little bit puzzled. Thank you for your clarifying. – bart-leby – 2015-10-12T19:33:39.867

4Yes. Here it refers to the unit of time, rather than the numerical position. – Graham Nicol – 2015-10-12T21:46:08.887


"A second," "one minute," etc. can figuratively mean "a short amount of time."

This makes intuitive sense because one minute (1/60 of an hour) is often considered to be a short time, and one second is even shorter (1/60 of a minute).

Confusingly, "second" as a noun seems unrelated to "second" or "2nd" as an adjective. Maybe there's an interesting etymological story behind it...


Posted 2015-10-12T18:39:46.663

Reputation: 180

3Apparently it's the “second diminished part (of the hour)”, according to Wiktionary. – Nathan Tuggy – 2015-10-13T07:20:46.873

Yes, that would make sense. (Hour > Minute > Second) – jkdev – 2015-10-13T07:42:17.517

3@jkdev minute comes from the Latin pars minuta prima (=first small part), and second from parte minutae secundae (=second small part). This is also the origin of using ' for minutes and " for seconds (e.g. 2'20" for 2 minutes, 20 seconds ) – nico – 2015-10-13T18:09:19.727

@nico Thanks! That may also explain why "minute" means "very small" (when it's pronounced my-noot). – jkdev – 2015-10-14T06:39:12.023


Unfortunately, this depends a lot on context. It could be the omission of a noun if used literally, but it almost never is. The sentence "Take a second." would normally be the omission of a prepositional phrase. The idiom is normally "take a second to..." It usually references thinking or actively sensing, i.e. "take a second to think through the problem before using brute force." Other phrases like this are "take a minute" or "take a moment" and have the same meaning. It does suggest something momentary though, as opposed to the related "take a while."

Interestingly, if someone says that something will take a second, you can expect them to be done shortly, but not literally in a second. If somebody will take a while, do not expect them to be done soon. These declarative (stating facts about the world) meanings carry through to the imperative (requesting or ordering that something be done) meanings as well.


Posted 2015-10-12T18:39:46.663

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It's equivalent to "take a minute," meaning, take a small amount of time (if there's an ellipsis, which there's not here, it can imply 'time out,' a break or thinking time.)

Dave Burt

Posted 2015-10-12T18:39:46.663

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Weird answers here to be honest. It literally means to delay before performing the action and by doing so you should in theory perform the action better by thinking about it more. The author of that phrase is stating that you should "stop and think" before performing the action. They are definitely not implying you should "double check".


Posted 2015-10-12T18:39:46.663

Reputation: 101

None of the other answers are approaching this from the idea of "double-checking" per se. – Nathan Tuggy – 2015-10-14T04:39:33.033

The last sentence is in regards to the OPs suggestion that the word "look" should exist – Jesse – 2015-10-14T04:41:15.850


Words or phrases may vary based on how they are use in a sentence. Let's say for example, the word "see".

I see his dog barking in front of your store last night.

I see him as a brother not as a boyfriend.

In my first sentence, the word see literally means something that was perceived or spotted by the eyes, while on the second part of the sentence the word see was used as something you have discerned or regarded as.

So I think the same goes for this situation, it is based on how the phrase "take a second" was used in the sentence to conclude whether or not this phrase should be accompanied by the word "look". However, judging on how "take a second" was used, the author was just trying to suggest his readers to take a pause or break and think things over before speaking or writing to avoid committing errors and to make your statement clearer.

Besides, when you say "take a second look" it basically means the phrase itself: taking a look on something for the second time or reexamining things or having things double-checked.

christine micah Mapa

Posted 2015-10-12T18:39:46.663

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