Seeing this expression, a lot of people might assume that it is a fairly recent coinage, perhaps you might even link it with twinkling stars.
If that’s you, then you will be surprised to learn just how ancient this expression is. In fact, it comes from the Bible. We find it in I Cor. 15:52, in reference to what is to happen at the world’s ending. In Latin, it is in ictu oculi, and this phrase would have become known in Western Europe through the use of the Latin Bible.
This seems to have been a popular phrase, notably appearing in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.
Probably owing to its biblical origins, a version of the expression can be found in a number of languages. Let’s take a look at just a few. In German, it is in einem Augenblick, perhaps more of a blink than a twinkle! The Spanish expression is rather lovely – en un abrir y cerrar de ojos, which literally translates as “in an opening and closing of an eye”. The Italians use in un batter d’occhio, “in the batting of an eye”.
On now to Polish, where we have the expression w mgnieniu oka. In another Slavic language, Slovenian, the expression is v hipu, in the blink of an eye. Back in the British Isles, let’s look at the Welsh expression; ar drawiad amrant – “at the batting of an eyelid”, or sometimes ar amrantiad, which means “flickering of an eyelid”.
In Greek, the biblical expression from Koine Greek, the version of the language that was used to write the original text, has been preserved in εν ριπή οφθαλμού (en ripi ofthalmou).