If you’ve ever heard someone talk about ‘dropping a dime’ on someone and wondered what that expression means, you’ve come to the right place. This common slang phrase actually has a pretty interesting backstory behind it that traces back several decades.

Here’s a quick answer if you’re short on time: to ‘drop a dime’ on someone means to snitch on them or report their wrongdoings to authorities. The expression originated in the 1960s and referred to dropping a dime (10 cent coin) into a payphone to report criminal activity anonymously.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the full origin and evolution of the phrase ‘drop a dime’ over time. We’ll look at how payphones and dimes were integral to its meaning, how it relates to criminal informants, and how the expression is used in a more general sense today.

The Literal Origins: Payphones and Dimes in the 1960s

The expression “drop a dime” has a fascinating origin rooted in the era of payphones and dimes in the 1960s. During this time, payphones were a common means of communication, and they required a ten-cent coin, or a dime, to make a call.

This simple requirement gave birth to a popular phrase that would go on to have a much deeper meaning.

Payphones Once Cost a Dime Per Call

In the 1960s, payphones were a ubiquitous sight on street corners, in shopping centers, and other public spaces. These payphones would only work if the caller inserted a dime into the coin slot, and this ten-cent fee would cover the cost of the call.

This requirement to “drop a dime” into the payphone became an essential part of the daily lives of people who needed to make a call while on the go.

Anonymous Tips to Police Using Payphones

One of the interesting aspects of payphones in the 1960s was their role in enabling anonymous communication, especially when it came to reporting crimes or providing tips to the police. The use of payphones allowed individuals to make anonymous calls without revealing their identity.

This anonymity was crucial for those who feared retaliation or didn’t want to get directly involved in a criminal investigation.

👍 An interesting example of this is the case of Deep Throat, the anonymous informant who played a crucial role in the Watergate scandal. Deep Throat famously met with journalist Bob Woodward in a parking garage, a location chosen for its anonymity.

The informant would “drop a dime” into a payphone and provide valuable information that ultimately led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon.

Informants Would Get Paid for Their Tips

Another significant aspect of the phrase “drop a dime” is its association with the concept of informants being compensated for their tips. In some cases, individuals who provided valuable information to the police or other authorities would receive a monetary reward for their assistance.

This financial incentive encouraged people to come forward with information and helped to build trust between law enforcement and the community.

💡 It is important to note that the use of informants and the practice of paying for information varies depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the crime being investigated. Different laws and regulations govern the use of informants, and the process can vary significantly from case to case.

Evolution into an Idiom Meaning ‘to Snitch’

The slang expression “drop a dime” has evolved over time to become an idiom meaning “to snitch” or “to inform on someone.” It originated in the 1960s in the United States and has since gained popularity in various communities.

Let’s explore how this phrase transformed into a commonly used term with negative connotations.

A Way to Secretly Report Crimes or Wrongdoing

In its early days, “drop a dime” was used as a code phrase for making a secret phone call to report crimes or wrongdoing. This phrase became popular during a time when payphones were prevalent, and making a call often required a dime.

By dropping a dime into the payphone, individuals could anonymously provide information to authorities without revealing their identity. This covert method of communication allowed people to share important information while remaining protected.

Specifically Referring to Snitching to Authorities

As time went on, “drop a dime” started to be associated more specifically with snitching or informing on someone to the authorities. It became a slang expression used within various communities to describe the act of reporting illegal activities or revealing incriminating information.

This evolution in meaning transformed the phrase into a way to describe someone who willingly provides information to authorities, often with the intention of getting someone in trouble.

Negative Connotations as ‘Tattling’

While “drop a dime” may have started as a way to secretly report crimes, it eventually acquired negative connotations. The act of “dropping a dime” or snitching is often seen as betraying trust or breaking an unwritten code of honor.

It is associated with tattling or betraying fellow members of a group, whether it be a street gang, a criminal organization, or even just a group of friends.

It is important to note that the negative connotations of “drop a dime” are subjective and can vary depending on the context and cultural norms. Some may view snitching as a responsible and courageous act, while others may consider it a betrayal.

The evolution of this slang expression showcases how language and its meanings can change over time, reflecting societal attitudes and values.

Broadening Meaning Beyond Crime Topics

While the phrase “drop a dime” initially gained popularity in the context of reporting criminal activities, its meaning has evolved over time to encompass a broader range of situations. Today, it is used to describe actions that involve reporting misconduct, revealing secrets, or spreading gossip.

Reporting Misconduct in General

One of the ways in which the meaning of “drop a dime” has expanded is in relation to reporting misconduct in general. It is no longer limited to reporting criminal activities but can also refer to whistleblowing or exposing unethical behavior in various sectors.

Whether it’s a concerned employee reporting workplace harassment or a citizen reporting government corruption, the phrase conveys the act of revealing information that could potentially lead to justice being served.

Telling Any Type of Secret or Spreading Gossip

In addition to reporting misconduct, “drop a dime” has also come to be used when someone reveals a secret or spreads gossip. It can be used when sharing personal information that was meant to be kept confidential or when spreading rumors about a particular individual or event.

The phrase has taken on a broader meaning, emphasizing the act of disclosing information, regardless of its nature or intent.

Phrase Used Flexibly in Different Contexts

What makes “drop a dime” so fascinating is its adaptability to different contexts. It can be used in both serious and lighthearted situations, depending on the intent of the speaker. For example, in a serious context, it may refer to reporting a crime or exposing wrongdoing.

On the other hand, in a more casual setting, it may be used playfully to describe sharing trivial or juicy information.

It’s worth noting that the evolution of this phrase is a testament to the dynamic nature of language and how expressions can change over time. As society progresses and new cultural references emerge, the meanings of words and phrases can shift, reflecting the ever-changing nature of communication.

For more information on the origin and history of “drop a dime,” you can visit www.grammarphobia.com or www.phrases.org.uk.

Variations and Related Phrases

While “drop a dime” is a widely known expression, there are variations and related phrases that have emerged over time. These variations often stem from the original meaning of the phrase and have added their own unique twists. Let’s take a look at some of these variations and related phrases:

‘Dropped a Dime On Him’

One common variation of “drop a dime” is the phrase “dropped a dime on him.” This variation is often used to refer to someone who has provided information about another person to the authorities or someone in a position of power.

It implies that the person has betrayed someone else by sharing incriminating or sensitive information. For example, if someone witnesses a crime and decides to inform the police, you might hear someone say, “He dropped a dime on him and got him arrested.”

‘Dime Dropper’

Another related phrase is “dime dropper.” This term is often used to describe someone who frequently shares confidential or sensitive information about others. It implies that the person is not trustworthy and is willing to betray others for personal gain.

For example, if someone is known for constantly gossiping and spreading rumors, you might hear others refer to them as a “dime dropper.”

Similar Expressions Like ‘Sing’ and ‘Squeal’

While “drop a dime” is a popular expression, there are other phrases that convey a similar meaning. One such phrase is “sing,” which is often used in the context of someone providing information to the authorities.

It implies that the person is “singing” like a canary, revealing information that could potentially incriminate others. Similarly, the phrase “squeal” is used to describe someone who betrays others by disclosing confidential information or secrets.

These expressions are all rooted in the idea of someone revealing information that may have negative consequences for others.

Understanding the variations and related phrases of “drop a dime” gives us insight into how language evolves and adapts over time. These expressions continue to be used in various contexts and have become part of our everyday vocabulary.

Use in Popular Culture and Media

References in Music and Movies

The slang expression “drop a dime” has become a popular phrase in music and movies, often used to add a touch of authenticity or create a sense of nostalgia. Many hip-hop artists have incorporated the phrase into their lyrics, paying homage to its origins in street culture.

For example, in the song “Droppin’ Dimes” by Jay-Z, he cleverly plays with the double meaning of the phrase, using it to signify both making a phone call and snitching on someone. This usage showcases the versatility and creativity of language in music.

In movies, “drop a dime” is often used in crime or detective films to show a character reporting information to the authorities. This adds an element of suspense and urgency to the plot. One memorable example is in the classic film “The Sting,” where Robert Redford’s character uses a payphone to “drop a dime” and inform the police about a scam.

Such references in popular culture help to keep the expression alive and ensure its continued usage in everyday conversation.

Usage in News Media Reports

The phrase “drop a dime” has also found its way into news media reports, particularly in crime-related stories. Journalists sometimes use the expression to describe a person anonymously providing information to the authorities or leaking sensitive information to the public.

This usage highlights the significance and impact of the information being shared, as well as the clandestine nature of the act. It adds a touch of intrigue to the reporting and engages the audience in a way that conventional language might not.

For instance, a news article might mention that a whistleblower “dropped a dime” on a corrupt politician, exposing their illegal activities. This not only captures the attention of readers but also creates a sense of urgency and importance around the information being shared.

The use of this slang expression in news media reports adds a layer of color and personality to the writing, making it more relatable and engaging for the audience.

Appearing in Books and TV Shows

The phrase “drop a dime” has made its way into various books and TV shows, further cementing its place in popular culture. Authors and screenwriters often use it to add authenticity to their characters’ dialogue, especially when depicting certain time periods or subcultures.

By incorporating this slang expression, they create a sense of realism and help the audience connect with the characters on a deeper level.

In the TV series “The Wire,” set in the world of drug trafficking in Baltimore, the phrase “drop a dime” is frequently used by characters to refer to reporting criminal activities to the police. This usage not only reflects the street language of the characters but also emphasizes the risks and consequences of their actions.

Similarly, in books like “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo, the phrase is used to convey a sense of loyalty and betrayal within the mafia underworld.


The common slang phrase ‘drop a dime’ has its origins in the 1960s practice of using payphones and dimes to anonymously report crimes and criminals. While it initially referred specifically to snitching to police, the expression evolved over the decades to more broadly mean revealing secrets or spreading gossip about someone.

So now you know the full fascinating backstory next time you hear someone say they ‘dropped a dime’ on someone! This look at the history and evolution of the phrase highlights how language and slang develops over time in response to cultural and technological changes in society.

Similar Posts