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Keep it under your hat

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on August 03, 2006

In Reply to: Keep it under your hat posted by Bob on August 02, 2006

: : Hi

: : I have heard theory that the expression "Keep it under your hat" comes from the archers practice of keeping a spare bowstring under their hat were it would be dry and ready to use.

: An interesting theory, but there's a much simpler explanation. "To keep it under your hat" doesn't mean to keep something dry, or in reserve ... it means to keep it secret, not to tell anyone else. In other words, to keep it inside your head (aha!) and not let it out.

In defence of the OP, it's true that a hundred years ago men quite commonly kept things under their hats. For example, the uniform of Royal Navy ratings in the late 19th century had no pockets, so it was standard practice to carry small personal items in the stiffly-blocked uniform cap. Several 19th/early 20th-century styles of men's hats, such as the bowler (derby), were well-adapted to this use, being hard with plenty of space in the crown. So it's quite likely that the phrase is partly an allusion to this habit. However, it *certainly* has no connection to mediaeval archers, who in battle wore helmets and in other circumstances were as likely to wear cloth hoods as hats. They also had plenty of other places to stow small items - the quiver, the pouch, the breast of the jacket - all of which would have been a drier place for a bowstring than the hat or hood, since mediaeval woollen hats and hoods weren't waterproof! (VSD)

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