Drop a dime

Drop a dime is an idiom with an evolving definition. We will examine the meaning of the idiom drop a dime, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

The original meaning of drop a dime is to secretly report a lawbreaker to the police, to snitch on a fellow criminal, to anonymously betray a criminal partner. The term drop a dime first appeared in detective novels in the 1920s-1930s. The idiom drop a dime conjures the image of someone putting a dime in a payphone to call the police and betray or “rat out” a criminal. Informants used payphones because short phone calls could not be traced, especially without prior warning of the incoming phone call. Even though payphones have passed out of usage, this meaning of the idiom does not seem to have waned. Drop a dime is an American expression, related phrases are drops a dime, dropped a dime, dropping a dime. Interestingly, the term drop a dime has also evolved into an American basketball term, dropping dimes, which means giving an assist on a play. Also, the expression is increasingly seen in American football to mean to throw a pass accurately.

Examples

With the death penalty off the table, neither the suspected black widow nor her beau has any incentive to drop a dime on the mystery man. (The Toronto Sun)

Obviously enough, Team Trump wants it to stay that way, which is precisely why Trump and his goon, Rudy Giuliani, were trying to drop a dime on Hunter Biden and smear Joe in the bargain. (New York Magazine)

“He has a three-year body of work in the ACC, it’s not like he showed up here and has been dropping dimes.” (The Toreador)

“So I’m telling myself, ‘He’s not going to be able to go out and be Patrick Mahomes, he’s not going to be able twirl around and go left and go right and spin around and then drop a dime from 45 yards away, is he?’” (The Kansas City Star)