What Does Quick on the Draw Mean?

Quick on the Draw Meaning

Definition: Able or tending to react with great speed.

This expression can refer to someone’s intellect. For example, it could describe a person who is quickly able to think of a retort. It can also refer to someone who is fast in other regards. For example, it could describe a person who notices something quickly or who is the first to do something.

Origin of Quick on the Draw

Originally, this expression described gunfighters who pulled their gun rapidly out of its holster in order to shoot. This quality was important in a gunfight because the faster person would be able to shoot the slower person first.

Over time, this expression evolved to refer to anyone with fast reactions. This usage first began in the early 1900s.

Examples of Quick on the Draw

what does quick off the draw meanIn the below dialogue, one friend uses the idiom to describe the other. Used in this way, it is a compliment and means that the person is quick witted.

Ezekiel: How’s it going?

Maggie: It’s going okay.

Ezekiel: Are you sure? I thought maybe you were feeling a little sad because you lost your favorite pair of earrings.

Maggie: How did you know?

Ezekiel: Well, I’ve never seen you without those earrings on, and you don’t seem to be as upbeat this morning as you normally are.

Maggie: You’re right. You always were quick on the draw.

quick to draw meaningIn our next example, one friend uses the idiom to describe herself. Used in this way, it has a negative connotation and means reacting without thinking.

Mila: Hey! I know it was you who stole my cell phone.

Tyrion: What are you talking about?

Mila: My cell phone went missing while I was in the bathroom. You were the only one here who could have taken it.

Tyrion: Are you talking about that cell phone sitting on the floor behind you?

Mila: Uh oh. Yes. I’m sorry. It must have fallen out of my pocket.

Tyrion: I would never steal your cell phone. I thought you knew that.

Mila: I do know that. I’m sorry. I guess I was a little too quick on the draw. Next time I won’t accuse you without good reason.

Tyrion: I hope you don’t accuse me at all!

More Examples

In this excerpt, a former mayor remembers that he wanted his police officers to react quickly by shooting suspects without waiting for anything.

  • He recalled that when he was mayor of the southern city of Davao, his standing order to the police was to be quick on the draw and shoot suspects on sight. –New York Times

This excerpt describes how police shot someone who had only a toy gun and, therefore, killed an innocent person.

  • But, he said, “they should use better judgement sometimes instead of being quick on the draw.” –Washington Post


The phrase quick on the draw can be positive and mean that a person is smart or accomplishes things efficiently. It can also be negative and say that a person makes decisions without thinking.