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What Does "Doing Something At The Drop Of A Hat" Mean?

What Does "Doing Something At The Drop Of A Hat" Mean?

One could use the idiom "at the drop of a hat" to describe something that happens without further ado or to point at something that requires no preparation at all, instead of saying "immediately", figurative language is used in English oftentimes to convey different attitudes about what you're expressing.

Doing something "at the drop of a hat" means that it will be performed immediately, without delay or hesitation. If you use this idiom when speaking or in writing it means you are willing to take action immediately. For example; "She said she'd move to the city at the drop of hat".

The origin of this idiom is not clear, it is known it originated amid the 19th century, some people claim the expression comes from the American Old West, while some others relate it to the Irish.

woman hurried running

Etymology Of "At The Drop Of A Hat"

Historically, hats have served other purposes rather than simply covering one's head from rain or sun, this wardrobe piece was quickly incorporated into the nonverbal communication, by being used to indicate certain actions such as greetings, acknowledge a passerby by lifting it, displaying enthusiasm, or dropping it as a signal that one is willing and ready to engage in a fight.

Several combats, disputes, and clashes in the American Wild West initiated with the action of one man taking off his hat and ramming it into the ground, some people believe this might be the origin of the idiom, an incredibly similar practice was done by the Irish to mark the start of a duel, therefore some people relate them to the idiom as well.

Nevertheless, The first written reference is found in a US congress debate held on October 12, 1837, the session was a hearing on bankruptcy law, the paragraph read as: "They could agree in the twinkling of an eye- at the drop of a hat– at the crook of a finger- to usurp the sovereign power; they cannot agree, in four months, to relinquish it."

Historical Use Of The Idiom


Several newspapers and journals have made use of this term before:

The New Hampshire Business Review released an article named "Sorry, Wrong Number." on June 5th, 2009, relating the case of former US State Senator, Peter Burling who was being accused by a telephone service provider of an unpaid amount of $17.00 even though he had his credit card saved for an auto charge. The following sentence was released in the article: "That report apparently was enough for American Express to lower the credit limit on Burling's longstanding account, something that — as many of us are finding out first-hand of late — credit card companies are happy to do at the drop of a hat."

Back on April 30, 1940, a report entitled "Allied Troops Throw Back Nazi Attack On Norwegian Rail Line: This Happened In The Past 24 Hours." was released in the american newspaper St. Petersburg Times it described the ongoing events in the war fronts in Europe. The article included the following statement: "Nevertheless, it would be premature to conclude that Russia would remain non-belligerent under all conditions while Italy would dash into the war at the drop of a hat. In the utterances of the Soviet leaders and press, it has already been stated that Russia could not remain indifferent to any disturbances that might transpire in the Balkan-Black sea zone. ON her side, Italy has lit it be known that she regards the Balkans as her especial sphere of interests"

The Easton Free Press released an article entitled "Cripple Creek's War." back on June 8, 1894, to inform readers about 4,000 African American miners in Pennsylvania who were willing to back down to the militia but not to deputies. "Sheriff Bowers was waited on by a large delegation of deputies, who urged him to allow them to accompany him to Bull Hill. This may precipitate a row. The town is still intensely excited, and there was little sleep in camp last night. The presence of the militia does not bring any relief. The deputies want non of their aid, and strikers stand ready for a scrimmage at the drop of a hat."

In 1854, the American novelist John Beauchamp Jones published the book named "Life And Adventures Of A Country Merchant: A Narrative of His Exploits at Home, during His Travels, and in the Cities; Designed to Amuse and Instruct" a dialogue including this idiom is found: "Hang it, Polly! Ain't you going to have me, after all your propositions and entreaties? You said you'd marry me at the drop of a hat! Once we were half married! And again, when I pleaded my honour, you said you would see if I couldn't be made to disregard it."

Back on July 19, 1852, the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel published an article that included the following statement:

"I found many Old Soldiers, who called themselves Democrats, and were ready to fight, at the drop of a hat, with any man who had aught to say against Gen. Scott."

The book entitled Lonz Powers Or, the Regulators: A Romance of Kentucky released by James Weir in 1850 contains a dialogue that reads: "He fell in love (an excusable weakness!) with every pretty face he saw, and would have married, at the drop of a hat, any right merry girl that would have been silly enough to have had him."

A newspaper report dated from January 12, 1851, released by Bell's Life In London contained the following declaration, using the idiom as a signal: "These men, both footmen of the West End, ran 200 yards for £10 a side, near the Swiss Cottage, St John's Wood, on Monday. … At the first signal (the drop of a hat) they bounded away, Deven leading at a rattling pace."

Other meanings of the idiom

The meaning of this idiom varies depending on the idea we are trying to convey, some definitions include:

  • At the slightest indication
  • At minimal signal
  • Immediately, without any delay
  • Without any doubt
  • Without previous preparation
  • For no apparent reason



Some similar words and phrases are:

  • At the spur of the moment
  • Abrupt
  • Abruptly
  • All at once
  • All of a sudden
  • At a glance
  • At a stroke​/​one stroke
  • At once
  • At short notice
  • At the flick of a switch
  • Bang
  • Before you can say Jack Robinson
  • Cold
  • Cheerfully
  • Directly
  • Dramatically
  • Eagerly
  • Easily
  • Fast
  • Fast-moving
  • Fast-paced
  • Fast-track
  • Flash
  • Flat
  • Forthwith
  • Gladly
  • Headlong
  • Immediate
  • Immediately
  • Impetuous
  • Impulsive
  • In​/​at one fell swoop
  • Instant
  • Instantaneous
  • Instantly
  • In a jiffy
  • Just like that
  • Lightning
  • Like a shot
  • Like nobody's business
  • No sooner said than done
  • Now
  • Off the top of your head
  • On the spot
  • Promptly
  • Right now
  • Suddenly
  • Straight away
  • Straight
  • Quick as a wink

Examples Sentences Where The Idiom Is Used

  1. Australia is one part of the world I would go to at the drop of a hat.
  2. Ryan is ready to leave at the drop of a hat.
  3. Nowadays companies will give layoffs at the drop of a hat.
  4. We can go on a beach trip at the drop of a hat.
  5. We are ever-ready to go shopping at the drop of a hat.
  6. I'm feeling so emotional that I can be triggered to crying at the drop of a hat.
  7. We discussed my department's problems at the meeting and my boss promised at the drop of a hat to help me out of the situation.
  8. If there's anything you need, I want you to call me, and I'll come at the drop of a hat.
  9. My mother is a shopaholic, she can't help it, she buys clothes at the drop of a hat!
  10. I may suggest, Erick can lead the meeting at the drop of a hat.
  11. Don't worry about her, she's inclined to change her mind at the drop of a hat.
  12. After ringing the bell, all students will enter the classroom at the top of a hat.
  13. I'm not sure about camping, it's something I wouldn't do at the drop of a hat
  14. When I'm hungry, my mood changes at the drop of a hat.
  15. Don't expect me to go rushing off to your house at the drop of a hat.
  16. I'd leave this job at the drop of a hat if I didn't have to pay child support.

Other uses of the expression

At the drop of a hat is also the name of a musical revue performed by the British comedy duo Michael Flanders (singer) and Donald Swann (composer and pianist), toured through Britain between 1956 and 1967.


Even though the exact origin of this idiom remains unclear, we learned how it has been broadly used in the press as earliest as the 19th century, also we understood other meanings of it, and synonyms that can be used in place of it, certainly, this metaphor has always been used to express immediate action at the slightest signal.

Don't be shy to incorporate figurative speech into your vocabulary, especially in informal writing, idioms can add energy, help your readers to think abstractly, and can shift the attitude in your speech, however, bear in mind they shouldn't be used in formal essays.

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