What are some other expressions for:

"Off the top of my head"

I seem to say this very often, it would be nice to be able to spice things up.

  • 1
    Are you concerned people will notice you keep repeating yourself? They might still notice you keep saying things without thinking first, even if you find several different phrases to cycle through. Seriously though, Offhand is shorter and probably more common, so maybe it wouldn't be so noticeable if you used that. – FumbleFingers May 11 '11 at 17:04
  • I've noticed a LOT of people seem to have signature phrases they use, especially when giving talks. "Right?", "Ok?", "you see...", etc. One friends appends "for that" to the end of everything he says... drives me nuts. Anyway, I think you're smart to try and diversify. – Fixee May 12 '11 at 0:27
  • "The answer isn't salient." This word, "Salient", comes from consumer psychology when referring to how quickly a brand name or product is thought of when a need arises. When you think of a cold carbonated syrup beverage, which brand or product comes to mind the quickest? This is referred to as a brand or product's 'Salience'. I use it to quickly express "off the top of my head" in other contexts and people seem to understand what I mean. – Nick Res Mar 13 '18 at 20:49

11 Answers 11


A commonly used synonym is..

I can't think of one right offhand.


I can't think of one right this second

  • right this second seems to come off better than right offhand. – casperOne May 12 '11 at 3:58

A few options:

  • off the cuff
  • improvised
  • instinctively
  • intuitively
  • without looking it up

my gut tells me and my first instinct is


"from the hip" is another one that's used

  • 2
    I think "from the hip" derives from wild-west gunslingers not even taking time to raise the arm and sight down the barrel before firing. Leading to overtones of "inaccuracy", which are even more present in the modern derivative "shooting from the lip" (which evokes "ill-advised" rather than "quick"). – FumbleFingers May 11 '11 at 16:59
  • +1 Fumble: because "shooting from the lip" reminded me of a song bar ahah I understand it slightly more now :) – Alenanno May 12 '11 at 9:19

I often speak in terms of how nothing leaps out at me or that what leaps out at me is...


Engineers and scientists often say, “Well, working off of the back of an envelope, I would say that…”


I like "extempore", though it is somewhat literary.


I'm just spitballing here.


Ad lib.


My first question would be: why do you use "off the top of my head" so much?

For example, if you're typing at your computer and a coworker wanders in and says, "My screen went blank, what's wrong with my computer?", you might reply, "Off the top of my head, it could be...". But you could just as well begin straight with, "Well, it could be ...", and if you're not worried about a few extra words, you could end with, "... I can't really tell without investigating it and I'm busy right now."

So I think the meta-question here is what is the context and what is your goal; are you over-using a specific phrase or are you over/mis-using a concept? Are you trying to minimize the other person's question, implying that it's easy to come up with counter-examples? Are you wanting to qualify your own statements to protect you from being wrong? ("I told you, it was off the top of my head.") Are you trying to minimize conversation?

Depending on context, you can easily get the concept across without breaking out any little phrase or finding a host of synonymous phrases. ("I can think of two or three examples, and I'm sure that if we had the time, we could come up with more." Or, "I can think of a couple of trivial examples that illustrate the problem, though I'm sure actual problems would be more subtle." Or, "A couple of things to consider would be...")

So, if you're wanting to simply qualify your answer as absolutely your first ideas with no real analysis, you can say things like, "A couple of possibilities spring to mind", or simply be explicit, "My first thoughts are..." or "I haven't had time to think about it, but my immediate thoughts are...", or "My first impression is...". But it really, really depends on your context and it's possible that particular phrases aren't needed at all.


Brain fart. Not very common, but it should be. E.g.

Just a brain fart, but how about...

  • To me, that phrase has a very strong negative connotation: a slip, lapse or mistake. I wouldn't use it for (or understand it as) a happy improvisation. – Colin Fine May 12 '11 at 11:06
  • I'd agree with Colin. I've usually heard this in a negative context, or at best as a "this is probably a crazy idea, but...". – Wayne May 12 '11 at 13:35

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