off the dime

I've been mentioning a lot of British idioms and slang that I hadn't previously encountered; now here's an American one.

The compromise proposal [...] was introduced last night and "has moved this issue off the dime," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)[....]

--Washington Post, "Immigration Legislation Compromise Announced," by William Branigin and Jonathan Weisman, 6 April 2006

Don't think I've ever seen that before.'s idioms section says to "get off the dime" is to "Take action, especially following a time of indecision or delay." Claims it's from 1920s dance halls, though that sounds a little dubious to me.

6 Responses to “off the dime”

  1. jere7my

    Sounds like the opposite of “stop on a dime” to me.

  2. Jed

    Yeah, I think a couple of sites that talked about the phrase said it had something to do with a dancing couple stopping somehow literally “on a dime” and then being told to move off of it.

    But I think that only works if you think of being on a dime as standing in one place without moving much or far. ‘Cause to me, the phrase “stop on a dime” implies coming to a stop in a very short space, rather than staying still in that small space after you’ve stopped.

    To put it another way: If “get off the dime” meant “get moving after a sudden stop,” that would make sense to me as an opposite of “stop on a dime”; but instead it seems to mean “get moving after a prolonged period of non-moving,” which doesn’t (to me) fit so well with “stop on a dime.”

  3. Shmuel

    For whatever it’s worth:

    It should be noted that, in this instance, gets its information from The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1997).

    The oldest example of this in the New York Times is from February 1943, quoting a labor leader on a strike by Boeing employees:

    Earlier he had said that the “WLB had been lulled to complacency through lack of physical demonstration by aircraft workers” and added:

    “We are fed up. We are going to tell the WPB to get off the dime.”

    (“WLB” is the War Labor Board; “WPB” appears to be a typo.)

    The next NYT citation’s from 1954, again with regard to a labor dispute:

    Mrs. Rosenberg said the committee was trying to determine what could be done “to get off the dime.”

    The American Thesaurus of Slang (2nd ed., 1952) lists “off the dime or nickel” among a long list of terms under “DEPART, ESP. HURRIEDLY; ‘BEAT IT.'”

    American Slang (a 1987 abridgement of the New Dictionary of American Slang) has:

    get off the dime v phr To start; stop wasting time: How do we get off the dime we’re on? —New York Times [alteration of the expression stop on a dime, used to praise the brakes of a car.]

    The New Oxford American Dictionary (2005) has

    get off the dime (informal) be decisive and show initiative: at some point you have to get off the dime and do something.

    The Oxford Dictionary of Idioms (2004) provides the same definition as “US informal,” and gives this example:

    2001 U.S. News & World Report Congress must get off the dime and redeem the commitments that President Bush made to New York City.

    To my ear, this sounds like an expression likely to have originated in the 1920s, but that doesn’t mean anything.

    (Man, I wish I still had access to UMich’s databases. And I’m gonna lose access to Emerson’s shortly. Somebody needs to form a consortium for non-academics who want to sign up for lots of reference works as a package deal.)

  4. Jenel

    I’ve heard and used myself the term “get off the dime” and when I did I meant “Move, stop being paralyzed, unable or unwilling to decide to act”.
    As a child in the 60s/70s I lived surrounded by older folks (in their 60s 70s/80). One site says “This expression originated in the 1920s in dance-halls as an imperative for dancers to get moving. By 1926 it had been extended to other activities. ” Remember “dime a dance”? Perhaps it meant stop dancing with one dance partner and move on to another?
    All I can confirm is that I heard this expression (since the 60s) used to mean exactly what it is said to mean.

  5. Irene

    I think it might refer to a “paradigm shift.” This is a usage I found on the web.

    Kent, while I agree about the need for diversity, it was, after all, discovering the ability to propagate cereal crops that moved us off the dime — from hunter/gatherers to primitive agriculture. Over those thousands of years, there have been numerous predominant cereal grains [my personal favorite still being farro]. There is tremendous diversity within what is done with those grains — whether it’s tofu or cattle feed, bread or beer.

    Four is doing pretty good.

  6. Jed

    This entry is getting a lot of comment spam, so I’m closing comments for it. If you have a comment, drop me a note in email and I’ll post it for you.

Comments are closed.