Where did the phrase "drop the hammer" come from? It's what you do when you start to go balls to the wall.

I've only heard it rowing.

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    And what does "start to go balls to the wall" mean? When explaining what an idiom means, it's probably best to not use another one!
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 6, 2014 at 21:03
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    I'd like to see what references you have used where these expressions are explained. Drop the hammer has other meanings than the one you referred to. There is quite a lot to be learned about what it means before you start asking where did it come from. Sep 6, 2014 at 22:25
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    The nice thing about having ELU at your fingertips is that you also have the rest of the internet within your reach, also. Try doing some research with just the expression, and forget about rowing. You will generally get a lot more help here if you show some initial effort or some sort. Otherwise, you have a strong chance of having your question closed for being a general reference question where the answer can be easily obtained from readily available resources. Sep 6, 2014 at 22:53
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    A search of drop the hammer yields several related definitions such as this one. There are also links to supposed etymologies. If you want more from us, you need to cite why these don't suffice.
    – bib
    Sep 7, 2014 at 0:57
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    Bib: why don't you bump up your comment to an answer so I can approve it and close this question out.
    – JenSCDC
    Sep 7, 2014 at 1:48

3 Answers 3


I've only ever seen it as described in definition-of.com: "Bringing a pending act to fruition. Usually connotes an act which will have serious consequences" and always as a one-time act which will bring all force to bear.

Also, like loufedalis' answer given in Yahoo! Answers, I believe the origin to be military and related to the hammer of a cocked pistol or rifle. When you pull the trigger and drop the hammer that certainly fits the poetic description of someone waiting for the right moment to strike with all available force.


From Wikipedia...in Reference to repairing the clock "Big Ben" in London...."3–4 June 1941: The clock stopped from 10:13 p.m. until 10:13 the following morning, after a workman repairing air raid damage to the clock face dropped a hammer into the works.[19]" Or another saying it resembles..."Put a spanner in the works"???

  • This answer is a literal meaning and does not answer the original poster's question of the idiomatic meaning.
    – ib11
    Jan 19, 2018 at 4:00

This must be a reference to Thor's hammer! Thor was a major Norse god who wielded a fearsome hammer, which was his weapon of choice. He was the god of thunder, and his mighty hammer called "Mjollnir" was forged by dwarves. When Thor did battle, he dropped the hammer on his foes. When people heard thunderstorms they knew it was the sound of his powerful hammer crashing down on his enemies.

So to "drop the hammer" is to go all-out, or give it your all (balls to the walls).

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    This is very imaginative. However, I downvoted this post because I don't think that it's true, and I don't think false answers are useful even if they are amusing. If you have any convincing evidence that this is the real etymology of this phrase, please edit your post to add references.
    – herisson
    Jul 14, 2016 at 22:16
  • While your balls to the wall definition is colorful you didn't cite a source, which you might find in the American comic book, but I don't see how this relates to English Usage, as in the North (Norway) they do not speak English as their first language but one of two forms of Norweigen instead (one of which is thought to be a fey dialect).
    – Jesse Ivy
    Jan 28, 2018 at 5:24

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