At the Drop of a Hat (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "At the Drop of a Hat"?

The term "at the drop of a hat" means willing or able to do something immediately.
At the Drop of a Hat (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • We're all packed. We can leave at the drop of a hat.
  • I cannot produce that report at the drop of a hat. I have to gather data.
  • Don't cross them. They would sue you at the drop of a hat.
  • I'd take that offer at the drop of a hat.
This idiom originates from the late 1800s, when it was common to signal the start of a horse race by dropping a hat. This practice was particularly common in Ireland, which is the likely country of origin.

Competing Theory

"At the drop of a hat" originates from fairground boxing in the 1800s. A challenger to the fairground champion would throw his hat into the boxing ring to signal that he wants to enter into the fight. (Without a hat, the challenger was easily spotted in the crowd as he made his way into the ring.)

A quick look at Google's Ngram Viewer, which scans millions of books published over the last two centuries, tells us that the term was first used in a published article in the 1830s but did not start become common language until the 1930s.

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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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