The following is an excerpt from the USA Today of March 31.

Donald Trump's lawyer said Friday that the former president will surrender to New York authorities.

Trump's lawyer, Joe Tacopina, told NBC's "Today" show on Friday that Trump was initially "shocked" when notified of the grand jury's action late Thursday. But the 76-year-old Trump "put a notch on his belt" and vowed to challenge the criminal case, Tacopina said.

What does "put a notch on his belt" mean here? It doesn't seem to match a commonly-held meaning — what is the remarkable success?

A success or achievement that might help you in the future is a notch on your belt. UsingEnglish

A remarkable success or achievement, especially one in a successive string, list, or tally of other such ones. TFD

Is this a common expression?

  • When quoting from sources, @Nonta, you must format with > characters and provide a link to the source. You also need to show your own research (I've done some for you here)
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 5 at 11:37
  • Seems kinda harsh to close. I googled "put a notch on his belt" -trump "meaning" and ended up with precisely nothing significant. Note that I added "meaning" in quotes to try to force it to a dictionary or a definition site. Nada. -trump to remove the chatter from the current event coverage. Apr 5 at 21:21
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: well, I don't post here often, but Q&As that entirely rely on a dictionary for answers are considered too basic here. And that's pretty much all the most upvoted answer below is providing. You do get those pages in google if you replace "his" with "someone".
    – Fizz
    Apr 12 at 10:31

3 Answers 3


It is an idiomatic expression:

a notch on (someone's) belt:

A remarkable success or achievement, especially one in a successive string, list, or tally of other such ones. (Can also be formulated as "a notch on the belt of someone.")

As in

  • The successful negotiation of the merger between the two companies was another notch on the young executive's belt.

(The Free Dictionary)

The idea of notches on a belt indicates a successive line, so, in this context, the success or achievement in question is usually one of a string of others.

  • 2
    Surely the notch is only added after the success is achieved? How does putting a notch on the belt happen before succeeding with being acquitted here? That is, what is the success which warrants the new notch?
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 5 at 12:04
  • @AndrewLeach - not sure I understand your comment. Anyway the idea is that of a “collection” of successful steps, as Trump’s lawyer is hoping to achieve in their legal action. This is just the first one.
    – user 66974
    Apr 5 at 12:10
  • What is the first successful step?
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 5 at 12:11
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach - well, we should ask the lawyer. Anyway Trump’s supporters say that all this issue will turn to his advantage.
    – user 66974
    Apr 5 at 12:13
  • Yes, it seems strange to think of it as a success. But the metaphor works if it is not a success that is counted but just 'another in a long string of court cases'. The full quote (by Trump's lawyer is"“He initially was shocked,” Tacopina told the “Today” show. “After he got over that, he put a notch on his belt and he decided, ‘We have to fight now.'”". The other quotes are full of similar cliches, so maybe this one wasn't the perfect choice.
    – Mitch
    Apr 5 at 14:17

I believe this is an unusual use of the idiom, which does generally mean a success to be chalked up.

However, here, it seems to mean a tightening of the belt, moving it up a notch. This has the connotation of standing up to the challenge, rather as a cartoon character might adjust his belt before rolling up his sleeves and wading into a fight.

The best I could find is Spike from Tom & Jerry, who doesn't have a belt, but will often draw himself up to his full height and one might imagine him needing to draw in a belt by a notch or two.

Spike from Tom & Jerry (MGM)
[MGM via Stickermania]


It is a common enough expression.


Notch (n.)

1.d. Each of a series of holes in the end of a belt or strap into which the pin of a buckle may be inserted. Also in figurative context.

1846 J. S. Holt Jrnl. Dec. in J. F. H. Claiborne Life & Corr. J. A. Quitman (1860) I. x. 277 The men..let out their belts a notch or two.

The question then arises "Why would another hole be needed?" The answer seems to be:


Belt (n.)

P2. colloquial. under one's (also the) belt.

a. Of food or drink, esp. alcohol: swallowed, consumed; in one's stomach.

1771 T. Smollett Humphry Clinker I. 122 He was carried home with six good bottles of claret under his belt.

That phrase then became figurative:

P2 b. Originally U.S. Safely or satisfactorily achieved, acquired, or experienced. In early use chiefly of racehorses or athletes.

1898 Boston Globe 10 Oct. 9/1 Charley Herr was the favorite, but he had too many races under his belt to be on edge for this his richest engagement of the year.

2004 Media Week 4 May 19/6 It's good to get extra qualifications under your belt.

It should be clear that if you put something under your belt, you can be justified in putting another notch in you belt in order to deal with an expanding waistline.

[Compare "tighten one's belt" when things go badly.]


But the 76-year-old Trump "put a notch on his belt" and vowed to challenge the criminal case, Tacopina said.

means that Trump has added a notch to his belt in advance as he expects the outcome to be a success that he can "put under his belt."

  • The close votes requiring research are unrealistic given this comment at PhraseFinder: phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/34/messages/225.html ": I am a reference librarian and was asked to help someone find the origin of the phrase, "Put another notch in your belt". I can't find anything on it in dictionaries, encyclopedias, or on the Internet."
    – Greybeard
    Apr 5 at 19:17

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