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.

Previous and Next Sayings

Test Your Knowledge of English Proverbs and Idioms

Ready for the Test?

More Proverbs, Sayings, and Idioms

Help Us Improve Grammar Monster

  • Do you disagree with something on this page?
  • Did you spot a typo?

Find Us Quicker!

  • When using a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing), you will find Grammar Monster quicker if you add #gm to your search term.
Next lesson >