Drop a dime

Drop a dime is an idiom with an evolving definition. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often descriptors that are spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, bite the bullet, beat a dead horse, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, jump on the bandwagon, piece of cake, hit the sack, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. 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.


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)

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