Performing an action with great haste. Doing something in a fast manner.
Perhaps gaining popularity from the Quick Draw Mcgraw cartoon that first premiered in 1959, this phrase is believed to have originated from when men would quickly reach down and draw their gun from its holster, readying it to fire.
The Salt Lake Tribune, printed in November 1890, used the phrase in such a context when it wrote:
“Nobody wants to quarrel with Mr. Naglo. I am told by Arizona acquaintences that he’s particularly quick on the draw. More than that he’s a two-handed shooter.”
The expression seemed to have pretty much always been associated with guns until what looks to be around the 1930s, where it started to be used in the sense of ‘doing something very quickly.’ I say this because the earliest example I could find of this expression in print with its ‘very fast’ meaning is from the Cumberland Evening Times, June 1936:
“Each coin is individually treated, stamped from polished discs with shining, new dies, and closely scrutinized for flaws. Collectors, it is said, are ‘quick on the draw’ when it comes to spotting the most microscopic of flaws.”
This meaning for this saying saying’s meaning could have separated itself from the context of guns at a sooner point in time, but the example above is the earliest I could find of it happening.
- After noticing an elderly man was in danger of drowning, the lifeguard leaped into the water, being quick on the draw to help the poor man.
Tip: We have the phrase meanings for many expressions, so if you have one in mind, just use our alphabetical list to find it.
Also, did you know the origins for many idioms are unclear? Yeah. Often times, the origins you see listed are plausible theories to how an idiom came to be, but not necessarily so. The quotes you see that contain the phrase are the oldest that I could find, but it’s very possible there are older recordings somewhere, so if you know of any, let me know!
Keep in mind, just because you see a saying in a newspaper from 1850 does not mean it originated in that year, or from that newspaper. In all likelihood, if a saying is already being used in a form of media like that, it’s probably from an earlier time. The purpose of these old quotes is to show, with proof, how old some phrases go back in history.