Hat Lore

Hat Talk

Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas)
Photograph courtesy of The Second City® (SCTV)
Many words and phrases connected with headgear have become part of everyday language. A person who keeps on about something has a bee in his or her bonnet. You may say you will eat your hat if some prediction you make fails to come true.

You hold onto your hat by remaining calm when faced with a great surprise or if you are unduly excited. If you wish to pay someone a compliment, you say "hats off to you!" That person may have done something that deserves a feather in his or her cap.

When a person puts on his or her thinking cap to give a problem careful thought, he or she is mentally imitating the teachers and philos-ophers of the Middle Ages, who often wore distinctive caps that set them apart from those with less learning.

Mad Hatter
Drawing by John Tenniel from Alice's Adventures in Wounderland

The expression mad as a hatter has been in use ever since Lewis Carroll wrote of the Mad Hatter's tea party in his famous children's tale, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865. Carroll was referring to the industrial disease caused by inhaling the fumes of mercuric nitrate, used in the felting of animal furs for hat-making. It caused twitching, nervousness and irritability — just like the antics of the Mad Hatter.

Here are a few more "hat" expressions. Do you know what they mean? Can you think of any more?

Keep it under your hat.

She's setting her cap at him.

I've just thrown my hat in the ring.

If the cap fits, wear it!

You're talking through your hat again.

That's really old hat.

Home is where one hangs one's hat.

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