On their website, the Village Hat Shop of San Diego has a nice page of hat-related idioms, from “talking through your hat” to “go s**t in your hat” (as they decorously spell it). The write-ups are enjoyable (for “at the drop of a hat” they say “Fast. [Dropping a hat, can be a way in which a race can start (instead of a starting gun for example). Also, a hat is an apparel item that can easily become dislodged from its wearer. Anyone who wears hats regularly has experienced the quickness by which a hat can fly off your head.]”), and they include a couple of translations of foreign idioms (“my hat instead of myself” is “an expression from Ecuador, home of the ‘Panama’ hat. It means what is says; it is preferable to give up your hat than your life”), but you shouldn’t pay much attention to the attempts to provide origin stories: “as tight as Dick’s hatband” has always been dear to my heart, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have anything to do with Richard Cromwell. (“Dick’s hatband” is an 18th-century phrase for “anything makeshift,” in the words of the Cassell Dictionary of Slang, which adds “The identity of Dick is not known — ‘some local character or half-wit’ [OED] — but his hatband was presumably an improvised and absurd object.”)

Thanks for the link, Robin!


  1. clodhopper says

    One I like about is
    “when the wind blows
    the hat goes
    you see the bald head”

  2. clodhopper says

    another hat story:
    how to doff thy hat and still have a hat .
    The Quakers hated doffing of the hat to the powers to be so when made to , they did so ,and kept their dignity by having a cap to cover their pride and joy.

  3. Mount Holyoke has a tradition called “Eating Deacon Porter’s Hat”.

  4. The proper Hebrew response for a question which only contains the word “why?” is: “hat”.
    Lama? Kova.

  5. pull a rabbit out of a

  6. There’s an Army variant on “hat trick” This variant refers to leaving a cap, or these days that odious beret, in your office or work space to make it look like you’re still in the building though not at your desk. When you are in uniform you are not allowed to go outside with your head uncovered (or to have a hat on indoors, unless you’re under arms, etc…) so you must still be around somewhere. That way you can just leave for the day and it takes people hours to catch on…

  7. The proper Hebrew response for a question which only contains the word “why?” is: “hat”.
    Lama? Kova.

    Why? Is it some sort of koan or ancient kabbalah wisdom? Or is it just what parents of two-year-olds say?

  8. For me, “at the drop of a hat” doesn’t just mean “quickly”; it means “with little provocation or prompting”. Wiktionary gives it as “without any hesitation; instantly”.
    “He gets angry at the drop of a hat” means not only that he gets angry very quickly; it implies that any small thing will set him off.

  9. Bathrobe is completely right.

  10. Good to see some lid-related stuff here again!

  11. For some reason a hat is the preferred object when chastising Danes about their misuse of the reflexive possessive pronoun (my main bugbear as a prescriptivist):
    Han tog hans hat og gik – He took his(someone else’s) hat and left.
    Han tog sin hat og gik – He took his(own) hat and left.
    I have no clue as to why.
    Hmmmm – Google to the rescue (perhaps).

  12. “Lama Kova?”, might be used in hebrew in two main ways:
    Q. “Why?” / “But why?”
    A. “Hat.” (There no real answer, leave me alone.)
    Q. “Why?”
    A. “Why hat.” (Will you stop asking these questions, please?)
    Actually, the meaning of the two usages is quite the same, I know.
    It probably stems from the old question – “Why does the hat flies upwards/high?” – “lama kova af lagova?” – probably From some old nursery song, but I really have no idea.
    Another interesting idiom in hebrew is “to pull a rabbit out of his hat.”, except that we use the zoological-incorrect phrase, “To pull a hyrax”. Which is a completely different animal. Of course, the mistakes relating to the hebrew ‘Shafan’ are very old, and stems from the translations of the bible –
    other hats:
    “To eat your hat” – admit a mistake.
    “on the head of the thief, the hat is burning.”

  13. Thanks, I love those! (Hey, maybe I should do a book on Hat Idioms Around the World…)

  14. I’ve just realised that Flanders and Swann have only been mentioned once on this blog (so far as I can make out), and that was in 2006, and not even in a post but in a comment.
    This despite two of their albums being titled “At The Drop Of A Hat” and “At The Drop Of Another Hat”, and some of their satire being on themes pertinent to culture and language (not really linguistics, though).
    Surely you have an opinion on tracks such as “Los Olividados” and “In The Desert”. The latter contains all the Russian I know.

  15. An excellent suggestion, but I’m not familiar with the tracks you mention—I only know a couple of their more famous routines.

  16. If you’d like to listen to a track or two as mp3 files I’d be willing to come to an arrangement by email – dragon at netyp dot com dot au (and because I’m Australian, I really must go to bed now).
    “In the Desert” is a song sung in Russian and translated into English one line at a time. The humour comes from the repetitiveness of the lyrics, but for that same reason it’s easy for an English monoglot to pick up on the original Russian words (assuming that Russian as spoken by Swann has any authenticity). The song ends with an expression translated as “what a pity”, and I’m only guessing here, but I suspect the Russian original may have been slightly stronger (sounds like “otshinozhou kaiibu” or something like that).
    “Los Olividados” is a spoken routine, consisting mostly of bad English/Spanish puns (“it’s caught by the matador, on his mat” is representative). It’s about the (fictional) Andorran festival of olive-stuffing, presented as a parody of Spanish bull-fighting.
    I do hope you’re familiar with the track officially titled “p**p*B****B**D******” – five words which, despite the theme of the song, don’t even come close to actual swearing.

  17. In The Desert (the Russian is actually pretty good)

  18. “Lama? Kova!” came up again later.

  19. January First-of-May says

    and I’m only guessing here, but I suspect the Russian original may have been slightly stronger (sounds like “otshinozhou kaiibu” or something like that

    No obscenity here: очень жалко его (“ochen’ zhalko yevo”), which means “very sorry for him”.

    Later on LH (with alternate readings of the final phrase, none of them obscene).

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