In a trailer for the movie "Black Hat", one person says

"The guy we're working with will drop the big hammer and not think twice about it"

Is this some sort of American slang, possibly for a nuclear weapon?

Doing a onelook search for "Big hammer" only gives Urban Dictionary, with a meaning that wouldn't make sense here.

4 Answers 4


According to The Random House Dictionary of American Slang (1997), the phrase "drop the hammer on" has been used as an idiom since at least 1978:

drop the hammer on to take decisive action against; "lower the boom on."

As nearly as I can tell, the inclusion of big in the OP's example does not indicate that "drop the big hammer" is a fundamentally different idiom from "drop the hammer" (in contrast to "drop the big one," for example, where "the big one" refers to a nuclear warhead); instead, I read the word big as a simple intensifier tacked onto the older and simpler phrase.

It is possible (and perhaps even likely) that "drop the hammer" evolved from "put the hammer down," a trucking term. Robert Chapman & Barbara Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, third edition (1995) has this entry for hammer down:

hammer down adv phr truckers by 1960 Going full speed; with throttle to the floor; =WIDE OPEN ...a herd of LA rednecks, all of 'em pie-eyed and hammer down—Esquire


In addition to previous comments in this thread, within the context of this film, I think it is a sly reference to the lead actor's appearance as the legendary "Thor" in another film.

Further, in this presentation, "blackhat" hackers seem to be analogous to superheroes (like Thor), able to wield that same level of destructive power.


Drop Hammer is a double entendre, a metaphor and a euphemism.

Double Entendre: meaning both literally hit with a hammer (unpleasant) and putting the hammer to a nail (driving, forcing into place)

Metaphor: Drive into place with force as a hammer would to a nail.

Euphemism: to shoot or kill with with a gun (hammer drops on firing pin).

Nuclear weapons reference is appropriate in metaphoric sense: US dropped the hammer on Japan in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. To drive into a geopolitical “place” with force.

Big Hammer definitely appropriate for nuclear weapon. Particularly when there is extreme asymmetry in geopolitical power ( e.g. US vs N. Korea)

  • Welcome to EL&U. Please keep your answers on-topic, without digressions into, for example, how a bullet kills people. Feb 6, 2018 at 19:24

Sounds like more of a personal choice of words rather than a cultural theme.

Safe assumption of "big hammer" is an imagery - even a euphemism of a more severe violence - or simply a colloquial term for sledgehammers. In a movie setting, the effect of dropping this magical hammer is probably for character reasons (i.e. an "African-American" actress alluding to weapons in simple words).

This hammer is also worth looking at, similar to that of a judge's gavel in a symbolic sense. Banhammer is not necessarily American but a gamer/internet jargon.

In this sense, it would be:

"The guy will wipe anyone out. He makes the call."

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