What exactly does "slam dunk" mean in this sentence??

Officials Warn Syria Chemical Weapons Intel Is ‘No Slam Dunk

--- http://world.time.com/2013/08/29/officials-warn-chemical-weapons-intel-is-no-slam-dunk/


3 Answers 3


A "slam dunk" is a term from basketball; it is a particularly easy shot, one that is difficult to miss. Thus "no slam dunk" means "not obvious, not simple, not particularly easy".

  • Yes, but Officials Warn Syria Chemical Weapons Intel Is not easy could mean that it was hard to obtain?
    – Derfder
    Aug 30, 2013 at 18:49
  • In context, it means that it isn't easy to tell what is going on: What weapons are being used, who is using them and so on.
    – Peter Flom
    Aug 30, 2013 at 18:51
  • 1
    @Derfder It means it is hard to obtain, not that it was hard to obtain. Aug 30, 2013 at 19:28

"Slam dunk" is a sports metaphor exactly as the previous responses explain. However, In this case there is additional context that gives this particular usage additional meaning. When President George W. Bush was considering the invasion of Iraq, he asked his subordinates how certain they were that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One subordinate replied that it was a "slam dunk," which indicated that the case against Iraq was 100% certain and easily made. Following the invasion, no weapons of mass destruction were found. The intelligence assessment had been 100% wrong. By saying that the case against Syria is "not a slam dunk," the current officials are also trying to indicate that they are aware of the mistaken assessment of Iraq and that they are being more circumspect as they consider Syria than previous officials had been when they considered Iraq.


"Slam Dunk" is a sporting metaphor:

The phrase comes from basketball, when a player rises up above the rim and forcefully puts the ball through the hoop so there is little or no chance for a defender to prevent it. (Originally, a "dunk" was the act of putting the ball directly in the hoop. A "slam dunk" was the powerful version of same.) Thus, by extension, a "slam dunk" is a metaphor that means a certain success, an unstoppable action.

-- http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/11/messages/470.html

In this context, "Slam Dunk" means "sure, certain". This means that the following headline and sentence are equivalent:

Officials Warn Syria Chemical Weapons Intel Is ‘No Slam Dunk’

U.S. Government officials are warning that the intelligence reporting on the Syrian use of chemical weapons is not 100% conclusive.

In other words, it is very difficult to prove with certainty that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons against its own people.

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