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I've come across some phrases with the word "beat" while reading a book. And though I looked it up in the dictionary, I failed to explain them by myself. I collected those "mysterious" phrases here:

New York Department of —what? After half a beat of confusion, I snatched up the phone. “Hello?”

“Are you saying that things are not okay for you at your grandparents’ home?” said Dave, without missing a beat.

<..> Dave (who chuckled, but awkwardly, and always a beat too late), he liked to laugh <..>

“Oh, ” said Mrs. Barbour, after a beat or two of surprise.

“I’m sorry, ” I said, a beat too late— <..>

It seems to me that "a beat" means "a moment" in all those cases (according to the context), but (2), in which it might mean "a piece of information" or "not losing the rhytm of speech" or whatever (?? I'm not sure). But all in all, I've never heard of such usage of the word "beat" and so that I have some doubts. However, someone probably could help me to understand them.

Thank you for any piece af advice!

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    You are essentially correct; 'a beat' as used in your examples is an extremely short period of time. Generally, the implied period is shorter than that implied by 'a moment'; the latter is usually interpreted to be a small number of seconds; the former is always less than a second. – Jeff Zeitlin Oct 3 '19 at 13:05
  • @JeffZeitlin Thank you for your response, Jeff! But the funny thing is that this meaning is actually not presented in 2-3 dictionaries I explored (Lingvo, McMillan, Oxford online), I agree, that "beat of the heart" (that is one of the popular meanings in all dictionaries) is similar to some extent, but honestly, this sort of thing possibly deserves to have an extra example... – Sasha Mayer Oct 3 '19 at 13:09
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    This meaning comes from music. If a song is in 4/4 time it has 4 beats to a bar. If you tap your fingers to a piece of music, a beat is the time between taps - and obviously is a different amount of time for different bits of music. – simon at rcl Oct 3 '19 at 13:14
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    I think the first example is clumsy / unusual, and the last three are all either mistakes, or deliberately quirky misuses (a beat too late is obviously just riffing off the idiomatic standard a bit too late). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Oct 3 '19 at 13:24
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    I must confess that when I posted my first comment, I hadn't registered that all your cited examples came from the same published source (to which there's still no link in the question text). Given that context, I guess I should clarify that my key categorisation of the first example is unusual, rather than clumsy - and obviously the last three are deliberately quirky misuses rather than mistakes.... – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Oct 4 '19 at 12:56
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It really just means a quick moment. As @simonatrcl mentioned, it comes from what a beat is defined as in music.

Here it is from Google Dictionary:

a main accent or rhythmic unit in music or poetry.

It can also be replaced with "bit" or "moment." Here it is with your sentences:

New York Department of —what? After half a moment of confusion, I snatched up the phone. “Hello?”

“Are you saying that things are not okay for you at your grandparents’ home?” said Dave, without missing a beat. [can't replace this one; missing a beat is also a musical reference]

<..> Dave (who chuckled, but awkwardly, and always a bit too late), he liked to laugh <..>

“Oh, ” said Mrs. Barbour, after a moment or two of surprise.

“I’m sorry, ” I said, a moment too late— <..>

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