Monday, January 28, 2008

Getting off the Dime

Are you unable to move from a (stagnating) position? The dime is the (physically) smallest U.S. coin, making it difficult to grasp and the subject of metaphor.

In other words, "Getting off the dime" is more than telling someone emotionally paralyzed, unable or unwilling to decide to act, to change, but hasn't....

To be "on a dime" or "off a dime" most likely derives from an older saying: "This car stops on a dime..." where the rest of the original statement is usually omitted, "... and leaves a nickel change." If so, then "on a dime" would equate with being at a standstill, or making no progress at all. "Off a dime" and "get off the dime" would then be the same as saying, "get busy, start moving, make progress", etc.

A similar expression derives from Arthur Miller's usage of the phrase in one of his many plays. Although I couldn't track down the play itself (and therefore cannot be certain of this person's derivation), it is supposedly a line spoken by one of the characters to another who is emotionally unable or unwilling to move forward.

Further speculation suggests that the phrase, "Mister, have you gotta a dime?" (supposedly a common phrase uttered by more than a few down-and-outers during the Great Depression, and, according to the source you read, either the price of a meal or a bottle) is the truer source where this phrase springs. In this case, "on a dime" would be someone who's very tight with his money (support, goods, etc.); "off the dime" would be a generous soul; and "get off the dime" would equate with "stop being so nitpicky..."

Either way, the metaphor has entered the American lexicon and we can explore it practically as well as conceptually.

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