Above all, you’ll be free of fear and desire. And how long your body will contain the soul that inhabits it will cause you not a moment’s worry.

(Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, translated by Gregory Hays.)

It's clear that the author here implies that he is not at all going to worry about his lifespan. However, I wonder whether the phrase not a moment’s worry may convey the opposite meaning in a different context.

For example, can I desperately utter something like These new dreaded taxes will cause me not a moment's worry meaning I will be staying in a state of anxiety for a time period much more longer than "a moment" or the only possible understanding is that of "I could care less over those taxes"?

1 Answer 1


Yes, it is formally ambiguous.

I think it is far more likely to be understood as "no worry at all", but with suitable context it could mean "More than just a moment of worry".

In speech, the intonation will distinguish them (main stress on "worry" as opposed to "a moment", and probably a different overall contour as well). But if a writer uses your phrase in that sense, they risk being misunderstood.

  • 2
    I could imagine using 'not even a moment's worry' (no worry at all, ever) or 'not just a moment's worry' (a worry for more than a brief period). May 22, 2022 at 11:02
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    No native English speaker would interpret "not a moment’s worry" as meaning more than a moment's worry.
    – tgdavies
    May 22, 2022 at 11:21
  • 1
    @tgdavies - except with qualifying text, e.g. "not a moment’s worry but [rather] a lifetime's" May 22, 2022 at 11:28

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