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According to the Free Dictionary, dropping someone a line means sending them a short message.

Is this correct? I always thought it meant phoning someone, the line referring to a telephone line.

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I find the answers here very interesting because, like @jdln, I had always used this to mean to phone someone. If I ever asked someone to drop me a line I was certainly expecting a call. –  Andy F Nov 21 '11 at 15:16
    
To get someone on the line means to establish a telephone connection, and you can say the line dropped if that connection is lost involuntarily, but I've never heard drop a line used to mean contact by telephone. –  FumbleFingers Nov 21 '11 at 15:50
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@FumbleFingers When used as "drop me a line", think of the "line" being drop/tossed in the direction of the person. –  Izkata Nov 21 '11 at 18:57
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I can imagine how OP and Andy came to their understanding of the usage - I'm just saying I've never come across it before. Nor have the three people who've posted answers, apparently. –  FumbleFingers Nov 21 '11 at 19:11
    
Sites like this one and this one show that's it's not unheard of. These are both from the first page of Google results for the phrase "drop us a line". I wonder if the confusion lies somewhere between a line of text and a telephone line. –  Andy F Nov 21 '11 at 21:07

7 Answers 7

up vote 15 down vote accepted

It refers to a line of text in a letter, so it means sending a short message (maybe with just one single line of text).

(If you drop the line during a phone call, that means you're hanging up)

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+1 for what's in the parentheses. –  Terry Li Nov 21 '11 at 19:34

History says the telephone was invented in 1876. I imagine A. G. Bell would be amazed at this Ngram (could he see it) if, indeed, it refers to telephone communication! ngram

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+1. But, what does it mean NOW? –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 22 '11 at 1:41

Drop me a line invites someone to write something to you: a message, a note or a short letter. It probably has to do with the lines that comprise a piece of writing.

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I think you are confusing the line in "Hold the line" with the line in "a line of text". The statement you posted has the second meaning.

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"Drop a line" also means to install a phone line, and the meaning has portmanteau'd into "give me a call" in many circles. This I can verify from first-hand experience.

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I think the confusion here is in the meaning behind 'a short message' in freedictionary.com.

A 'message' in this case does not necessarily mean a text message. It can just as easily mean a phone message, and is very frequently used to mean just that.

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It's funny how many phrases in language completely lose context with their origins over time. "Drop a call" seems like a different nuance than "drop a line". And there is the action of dropping a line as in the actual telephone cable line being dropped into the ground for installation.

I also interpret "drop me a line" to come from dropping someone a line of rope to reach them (connect with them). By that interpretation, and mode of communication involving any kind of line seems to qualify – a telephone line, a line of text, or even a pickup line in a bar (which has the added irony of dropping vs. picking up) :)

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