[Ads-l] turn on a dime (1911), stop on a dime (1921)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Wed Sep 8 15:18:52 EDT 2021

The OED entry for "dime" hasn't been updated with the idiom "(turn/stop) on
a dime," though Oxford Dictionaries has it ("used to refer to a maneuver
that can be performed by a moving vehicle or person within a small area or
short distance").

HDAS has an earlier expression, "turn on a five-cent piece," from 1881. The
same quote appears in newspaper databases as early as Oct. 17, 1879,
excerpted from an article by A.A. Hayes, Jr. in the Nov. 1879 issue of
Harper's. ("Turn on a ten-cent piece" shows up starting in 1891.)


HDAS has "turn on a dime" from 1918 but doesn't have "stop on a dime."

* turn on a dime (1911)

Galveston (Texas) Daily News, Mar. 18, 1911, p. 3, col. 6
While the ship was being turned and docked her fast little steam launch
darted about doing its share of the task like something with human
Intelligence. It was a fast little craft and could almost turn on a dime in
a jiffy.
Washington Post, May 28, 1911, Sporting Section, p. 4, col. 7
The only difference in equipment is in the shoes, the American ponies
wearing light plates with a flange on the outer rim and the English ponies
having the flange on the inside of the shoe, which in their opinion is the
part of the foot most needing a bracing when a pony turns "on a dime."

* stop on a dime (1921)

Indianapolis News, Jan. 27, 1921, p. 19 (advt.)
The New Design 1921 Franklin [...]
Increased leverage makes transmission footbrake 30% powerful. You can stop
it on a dime.
Herald and Review, Decatur, Ill., Mar. 25, 1921, p. 6, col. 2
They [sc. buses] will get you down town a little quicker than the street
cars, sometimes, and often furnish you with many thrills enroute by
stunting in front of an 18 ton street car that cannot stop on a dime, no
matter how careful the operator, or ignoring the watchman's warning at the
railroad crossing.
South Bend (Ind.) Tribune, May 2, 1922, p. 2, col. 6
It is true that "flivvers" can stop on a dime but some drivers forget that
they sometimes back up.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list