Posted by ESC on December 14, 2003
In Reply to: At the drop of a hat posted by Henry on December 14, 2003
: : : Where did this term originate? What it the starters signal for a duel or something?
: : This saying is said to come from the American West, where the signal for a fight was often just the drop of a hat. It may have an Irish origin, based on something like "he's ready to fight at the drop of a hat" which in turn may be followed by "roll up your sleeves" or "take off your coat" ie items of clothing are involved in the start of fights.
: Flanders and Swann called their show At the Drop of a Hat. Perhaps they needed little encouragement to break into song. Their well-known animal observation piece, 'The Hippopotamus Song', had inspired the Queen, Prince Philip and the Mountbattens, who saw the revue at the Fortune Theatre, to join in the chorus of 'mud, mud, glorious mud' chorus.
DROP OF A HAT - "Acting readily or on some single signal. In the 19th century it was occasionally the practice in the United States to signal the start of a fight or a race by dropping a hat or sweeping it downward while holding it in the hand. The quick response to the signal found its way into the language for any action that begins quickly without much need for prompting." "Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Wings Books, Originally New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985).