[on-thuh-spot, awn-]


done or occurring at the time or place in question: an on-the-spot recording.

Origin of on-the-spot

First recorded in 1885–90




a rounded mark or stain made by foreign matter, as mud, blood, paint, ink, etc.; a blot or speck.
something that mars one's character or reputation; blemish; flaw.
a small blemish, mole, or lesion on the skin or other surface.
a small, circumscribed mark caused by disease, allergic reaction, decay, etc.
a comparatively small, usually roundish, part of a surface differing from the rest in color, texture, character, etc.: a bald spot.
a place or locality: A monument marks the spot where Washington slept.
Usually spots. places of entertainment or sightseeing interest: We went to a few spots to dance and see the floor shows.
a specific position in a sequence or hierarchy: The choral group has the second spot on the program, right after the dancers. He moved up from second spot to become president of the firm.
  1. one of various traditional, geometric drawings of a club, diamond, heart, or spade on a playing card for indicating suit and value.
  2. any playing card from a two through a ten: He drew a jack, a queen, and a three spot.
a pip, as on dice or dominoes.
Slang. a piece of paper money, almost always indicated as a five- or ten-dollar bill: Can you loan me a five spot until payday?
Also called spot illustration. a small drawing, usually black and white, appearing within or accompanying a text.
Chiefly British Informal.
  1. a small quantity of anything.
  2. a drink: a spot of tea.
a small croaker, Leiostomus xanthurus, of the eastern coast of the U.S., used as a food fish.
spots, Informal. commodities, as grain, wool, and soybeans, sold for immediate delivery.
Informal. spotlight(def 1).

verb (used with object), spot·ted, spot·ting.

to stain or mark with spots: The grease spotted my dress.
to remove a spot or spots from (clothing), especially before dry cleaning.
to sully; blemish.
to mark or diversify with spots or dots, as of color: We spotted the wall with blue paint.
to detect or recognize; locate or identify by seeing: to spot a hiding child.
to place or position on a particular place: to spot a billiard ball.
to stop (a railroad car) at the exact place required.
to scatter in various places: to spot chairs here and there in the room.
Informal. spotlight(def 5).
  1. to determine (a location) precisely on either the ground or a map.
  2. to observe (the results of gunfire at or near a target) for the purpose of correcting aim.
Photography. to remove spots from (a negative or print) by covering with opaque color.
Sports. to give or grant a certain margin or advantage to (an opponent): He spotted the tyro 12 points a game. The champion won, although spotting the challenger twenty pounds.
(in gymnastics) to watch or assist (a performer) in order to prevent injury.
Slang. to lend: Can you spot me twenty for tonight's game?

verb (used without object), spot·ted, spot·ting.

to make a spot; cause a stain: Ink spots badly.
to become spotted, as some fabrics when spattered with water.
Military. to serve or act as a spotter.


Radio, Television.
  1. pertaining to the point of origin of a local broadcast.
  2. broadcast between announced programs.
made, paid, delivered, etc., at once: a spot sale; spot goods.

Origin of spot

1150–1200; (noun) Middle English spotte; cognate with Middle Dutch, Low German spot speck, Old Norse spotti bit; (v.) late Middle English spotten to stain, mark, derivative of the noun
Related formsspot·like, adjectivespot·ta·ble, adjectivenon·spot·ta·ble, adjectivere·spot, verb, re·spot·ted, re·spot·ting.un·spot·ta·ble, adjective

Synonyms for spot

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for on the spot



a small mark on a surface, such as a circular patch or stain, differing in colour or texture from its surroundings
a geographical area that is restricted in extenta beauty spot
a locationthis is the exact spot on which he died
a blemish of the skin, esp a pimple or one occurring through some disease
a blemish on the character of a person; moral flaw
informal a place of entertainmentwe hit all the night spots
informal, mainly British a small quantity or amounta spot of lunch
informal an awkward situationthat puts me in a bit of a spot
a short period between regular television or radio programmes that is used for advertising
a position or length of time in a show assigned to a specific performer
short for spotlight
(in billiards)
  1. Also called: spot ballthe white ball that is distinguished from the plain by a mark or spot
  2. the player using this ball
billiards snooker one of several small black dots on a table that mark where a ball is to be placed
  1. denoting or relating to goods, currencies, or securities available for immediate delivery and paymentspot goods See also spot market, spot price
  2. involving immediate cash paymentspot sales
change one's spots (used mainly in negative constructions) to reform one's character
high spot an outstanding eventthe high spot of the holiday was the visit to the winery
knock spots off to outstrip or outdo with ease
on the spot
  1. immediately
  2. at the place in question
  3. in the best possible position to deal with a situation
  4. in an awkward predicament
  5. without moving from the place of one's location, etc
  6. (as modifier)our on-the-spot reporter
soft spot a special sympathetic affection or weakness for a person or thing
tight spot a serious, difficult, or dangerous situation
weak spot
  1. some aspect of a character or situation that is susceptible to criticism
  2. a flaw in a person's knowledgeclassics is my weak spot

verb spots, spotting or spotted

(tr) to observe or perceive suddenly, esp under difficult circumstances; discern
to put stains or spots upon (something)
(intr) (of some fabrics) to be susceptible to spotting by or as if by watersilk spots easily
(tr) to place here and therethey spotted observers along the border
to look out for and note (trains, talent, etc)
(intr) to rain slightly; spit
(tr) billiards to place (a ball) on one of the spots
military to adjust fire in order to correct deviations from (the target) by observation
(tr) US informal to yield (an advantage or concession) to (one's opponent)to spot someone a piece in chess
Derived Formsspottable, adjective

Word Origin for spot

C12 (in the sense: moral blemish): of German origin; compare Middle Dutch spotte, Old Norse spotti
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for on the spot



c.1200, "moral stain," probably from Old English splott "a spot, blot, patch (of land)" infl. by Middle Dutch spotte "spot, speck." Other cognates are East Frisian spot "speck," North Frisian spot "speck, piece of ground," Old Norse spotti "small piece." It is likely that some of these are borrowed, but the exact evolution now is impossible to trace.

Meaning "speck, stain" is from mid-14c. The sense of "particular place" is from c.1300. Meaning "short interval in a broadcast for an advertisement or announcement" is from 1923. Proceeded by a number (e.g. five-spot) it originally was a term for "prison sentence" of that many years (1901, American English slang). To put (someone) on the spot "place in a difficult situation" is from 1928. Colloquial phrase to hit the spot "satisfy, be what is required" is from 1868. Spot check first attested 1933. Spot on "completely, accurately" is attested from 1920.



early 15c., "to stain, sully, tarnish" from spot (n.). Sense of "to stain with spots" is attested from mid-15c. Meaning "to see and recognize," is from 1718, originally colloquial and applied to a criminal or suspected person; the general sense is from 1860. Related: Spotted; spotting.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Medicine definitions for on the spot




A mark on a surface differing sharply in color from its surroundings.
A stain or blot.


To lose a slight amount of blood through the vagina.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with on the spot

on the spot


At once, without delay, as in When the boss learned Tom had been lying, he fired him on the spot. This usage suggests that one does not have time to move away from a particular spot. [Late 1600s]


At the scene of action, as in Whenever there's a bad accident or fire, you can be sure the station will have a reporter on the spot. This usage also employs spot in the sense of “a particular location.” [Late 1600s]


Under pressure or in trouble, as in He's on the spot, because he can't pay back the loan. It is also phrased as put on the spot, meaning “put under pressure.” For example, The reporter's question put her on the spot; she didn't want to lie or to admit her part in the scandal. [First half of 1900s]


see blind spot; hit the high spots; hit the spot; in a bind (tight spot); in a fix (spot); Johnny-on-the-spot; knock the socks (spots) off; leopard cannot change its spots; on the spot; rooted to the spot; soft spot; x marks the spot.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.