got his head/hat handed to him

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got his head/hat handed to him

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sat Jan 07, 2006 6:46 pm

We all know that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political year did not go well, and the San Francisco Chronicle quotes former Gov. Gray Davis as even saying that he GOT HIS HAT HANDED TO HIM:
<2006 "This is like in the Army -- left, right, left,'' [[former Gov.]] Davis shrugged. "Look, he [Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger]] said he learned his lesson and he made mistakes. Last year was a lost opportunity. He took on nurses, teachers and firefighters and he GOT HIS HAT HANDED TO HIM.'' —San Francisco Chronicle, 6 January>
Never heard this one before. The expression that I am familiar with and the one that was quite popular when I was growing up, but which I don’t hear around that much anymore, is GOT YOUR HEAD HANDED TO YOU. But, surprisingly, when I looked through my slang dictionaries, I couldn’t fine either of these expressions listed. So, if someone does find them, please let me know because I’d like to hear what they have to say. In the mean time, here’s my understanding of how they are defined and my guess as to where they might have come from.

Defintion:Today the two expression seem to be used as synonyms (with the ‘head’ version in far wider use) meaning to come out of a contest or situation having done badly, having gotten trounced, beaten soundly, ‘creamed.’ It also has the related meaning of getting verbally assailed, severely censured, upbraided (see 2001 quote below).

It would seem that TO GET YOUR HEAD HANDED TO YOU might be the older phrase, perhaps even from days of yore when such a threat might have been taken literally. However, the earliest example that I could find was from 1952 – not quite days of old, at least not for me!
<1952 “Mr. Monaghan said that when he took over the Police Department last July ‘You were liable to wake up almost any morning [[during police investigations last July]] and find YOUR HEAD HANDED TO YOU in the press.’”—‘New York Times,’ 24 April, page 22>

<1967 “If the filmmaker attempts to do in equivalent — but original — cinematic terms what the author has done with words, he is likely to HAVE HIS HEAD HANDED TO HIM by purists.”—‘New York Times,’ 10 October, page 56>

<1972 “In the opening of Browne’s game [[chess]] Westerinen of Finland, White provides a little object lessen in How to Fritter Away the Initiative. First, make a few indifferent moves, . . . —then, if your opponent is a grandmaster, just sit back and wait to GET YOUR HEAD HANDED TO YOU—it will almost surely happen.”—‘New York Times,’ 27 February, page D37>

<1989 “The high anxiety about the junk-bond market sent the stocks of takeover targets plunging across the board. ‘The arbs [[a variety of financial trader]] GOT THEIR HEADS HANDED TO THEM,’ said Anson Beard, the chief trader for Morgan Stanley. ‘Very few anticipated that the UAL buyout could fail.’”—‘Time Magazine,’ 23 October>

<1996 “‘People who are shorting this stock are going to HAVE THEIR HEADS HANDED TO THEM.’ said Michael P. DiCarlo, manager of the John Hancock Special Equities fund, . . .”—‘New York Times,’ 28 January, page F4>

<2001 “I was next door when YOU GOT YOUR HEAD HANDED TO YOU. And I heard YOU GET YOUR HEAD HANDED TO YOU.”— Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature,’ Vol. 13, No. 1, Spring, page 49>
To GET YOUR HAT HANDED TO YOU sounds like a kinder and gentler version of its nastier relative, and one might assume that they somehow developed in parallel and then eventually merged. However, there is no history before the late 1990s of a nonfigurative existence of the HAT form, as far as I could determine. It’s original meaning had came from the idea of one literally being handed one’s hat and asked to leave – ‘shown the door’ – as is exactly the case in the 1927 quote below. One would then have assumed that at some point in the intervening years the phrase took on a figurative usage with the meaning ‘rejection,’ and that there was an eventual melding, most likely by confusion, of the said two phrases. Trouble is, I can find no record of the expression existing in a figurative form in those years from the 1920s to the 1990s. What it looks like to me is that the HAT version just suddenly emerged as a variation – probably as a result of a mistaken substitution of HAT for HEAD, and just quickly propagated. The first time that it appeared in any ‘major’ newspaper or magazine that I could find was in the New York Times in 2000 (see quote below), and since then it has only appeared there 4 times as opposed to 10 for its relative – which ain’t a whole lot for either of them.
<1927 “He described how an unnamed Vice President of a large New York City bank had once submitted a purchase offer to Mr. Ford only to HAVE HIS HAT HANDED TO HIM and the door shown to him by Mr. Ford in perfect silence.”—‘New York Times,’ 5 February, page 7> [[early literal usage]]

<1999 “This is the first time [[professional hockey]] Domi has HAD HIS HAT HANDED TO HIM in a long while, thanks to a left to the temple from Marshall. Just two sounds here: Marshall's knuckle thumping Domi's colossal cranium, then Tie's can hitting the ice.—‘Village Voice,’ 23 December>

<2000 “Some R.N.C. members are saying ‘What is going on here? He’s GETTING HIS HAT HANDED TO HIM and he can’t put down the rebellion.’”—‘New York Times,’ 24 February, page A1> [[said of Gov. G. W. Bush after twin losses to Senator John McCain in Michigan and Arizona in the primaries]]

<2002 “For the Republicans there is Bret Schundler, who won the primary last time on the strength of his conservative agenda and HAD HIS HAT HANDED TO HIM by the voters in the general election.”—‘New York Times,’ 17 November, page NJ2>

<2003 “ ‘The President GOT HIS HAT HANDED TO HIM with the Senate faith-based compromise,’ Anders said. ‘He didn't have the votes because the country is not ready to throw out the Constitution, civil rights laws and allow federally-funded religious discrimination.’” — ‘American Civil Liberties Union’ (aclu.org), 28 April>

<2004 “The victory put the Dons in position to meet Crenshaw in an epic semi-final game [[high school football]], if both Dorsey and Crenshaw won their second round games on Nov. 24. Dorsey played host to Sylmar and Crenshaw faced Venice in a rematch of last' year's playoff where they GOT THEIR HATS HANDED TO THEM 53-0.”—‘Los Angeles Sentinel,’ November 25-December 1, Vol. LXX, Issue 36, page B1>
So what’s the scoop? GOT HIS HAT HANDED TO HIM is probably the recent (late 1990s) illegitimate offspring of GOT HIS HEAD HANDED TO HIM [1952 or older] resulting from a mistaken substitution of HAT for HEAD in the older figurative expression. However, the HEAD version is far and away the more widely used today and a Google sampling of the various variations of each (using, for example, the pronouns ‘you, him, her, and their’) produces a hit ratio of about 10:1. Although, neither expression is that wildly popular, it seems that they certainly are not so obscure as to not warrant their inclusion in some slang, idiom, or catch phrase dictionary somewhere – so I’m still looking. I’ve got an e-mail into the folks at DARE (Dictionary of American Regional English) and perhaps they may be able to provide us with some further information.
______________________

Ken G – January 7, 2006
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got his head/hat handed to him

Post by dalehileman » Sun Jan 08, 2006 12:58 am

hand someone his head...by 1970's...destroy; figuratively to decapitate...=CLOBBER...--H-C Dict of Am. Slang
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got his head/hat handed to him

Post by minjeff » Sun Jan 08, 2006 1:40 am

Hey guys amazingly in my 18 years of wordly experience I don't recall hearing this expression before, however I have heard the expression "to have one's butt/ass handed to him". I've never heard the head or hat version though.
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Signature: Letters go together to make words; words go together to make phrases, and phrases sentences, but only in certain combinations. In others they're just non-sense.

got his head/hat handed to him

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Jan 08, 2006 5:43 am

Dale, Good work. That was really a hard one to find because Chapman's Dictionary of American Slang had it out of normal alphabetical order and I was about to ask you what page it was on.

HAND SOMEONE HIS HEAD: “To destroy; figuratively to decapitate someone and hand him his own head,’ = clobber”

This is in the same spirit and seems to have about the same meaning as GET YOUR HEAD HANDED TO YOU, but I’ve never heard this one before and like the other forms, it seems to be relatively rare - Chapman seems to be the only source I have that lists it. Chapman says ‘by 1970,’ but it is interesting to note that the earliest example I could find for this expression is from 1950, which is within 2 years of the earliest example I found above for its close relative (1952 , repeated below). And it seems possible that they were actually born at nearly the same time and nearly immediately were variations on each other.
<1950 “From the opposite side of the ring another feminine voice blasted the air with angry cries, such as ‘Rip his arm off Billy,’ and ‘HAND HIM HIS HEAD, Billyboy.’”—‘Chicago Daily Tribune, 19 November, page C5

<1952 “Mr. Monaghan said that when he took over the Police Department last July ‘You were liable to wake up almost any morning [[during police investigations last July]] and find YOUR HEAD HANDED TO YOU in the press.’”—‘New York Times,’ 24 April, page 22>

<1970 “Associate Editor and Columnist Jack Maloney is as independent a newspaper man as you’ll find anywhere. He’s not out to win friends among the establishment. Neither is he the darling of the New Left or Old Right. . . . And if you said he was the spokesman of either party, he’d probably make a face and HAND YOU YOUR HEAD.”—‘Chicago Tribune,’ 15 January, page W6>

<1993 “Rather than bring his top players . . . . back from Europe and have the Germans HAND THEM THEIR HEADS, his choice was to preserve morale and save them for the world cup next June.”—‘New York Time,’ 19 December, page S7>

<1995 “If you’re a good team, you’ve got to know that somebody out there could HAND YOU YOUR HEAD. Chicago did it to us on a regular basis. . . . .”—New York Times,’ 2 March, page B11>
Ken – January 7, 2006
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Re: got his head/hat handed to him

Post by xanthian » Sat Apr 16, 2011 10:26 am

I had to come here, searching for "got his hat" "colloquialism" to find out what it meant, but I can point to an earlier use of the phrase. I started that search to understand the phrase in the title track of Jim Croce's 1972 album _You Don't Mess Around With Jim_, where there is a spoken portion reading:

"Yeah, big Jim got his hat
Find out where it's at
And it's not hustlin' people strange to you
Even if you do got a two-piece custom-made pool cue"

The first line conveys what the "got his hat (handed to him)" full phrase conveys, as a look at the complete song will quickly convince the reader. That the parenthetical portion could be elided in the song and the meaning be still expected to be clearly understood by the listener, implies that the phrase was well known at the time, and thus had, by 1972, been in use for a substantial earlier period of time, though perhaps more spoken than written.

FWIW

xanthian.
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Re: got his head/hat handed to him

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sat Apr 16, 2011 12:31 pm

I'd never heard either expression either. (!?)
To throw one's cap in means to tender an interest, enter the contest etc.
(You've) got to hand it to (him) means credit where credit's due - nearly the opposite of the originally posted expressions. The it here is delexical, but probably references credit or the result. YourDictionary dates this expression to about 1900, but without any references.
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Re: got his head/hat handed to him

Post by trolley » Sat Apr 16, 2011 5:44 pm

I've never heard of the head or hat version. Around here, it's your ass that gets handed to you. It often refers to someone being soundly beaten in a fight or a sporting event.
"Chicago sure got their asses handed to them by Vancouver"
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Re: got his head/hat handed to him

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sun Apr 17, 2011 1:50 am

.. I find the progression from head to hat to arse interesting in terms of the social implications .. from being beheaded to having your hat taken from the hook and handed to you to indicate that you should leave to the profanity so common in modern sayings ..

WoZ preferring money to be handed to him
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: got his head/hat handed to him

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sun Apr 17, 2011 2:19 am

.. I had a further think about this and just off the top of my head I think that if one doesn't let things go to their head then they can remain head and shoulders above everyone and avoid banging their head against the wall .. one should try to avoid head cases but seek out wise heads and simply get one's head down to it .. then people can see you have your head screwed on the right way .. this should enable one to keep their head above water while avoiding getting a swollen head or having to go around biting people's heads off .. however if one simply lets their head go and fails to hit the nail on the head then one can expect that, heads or tails, heads will roll and by only burying one's head in the sand and refusing to accept that two heads are better than one things will come to a head quickly and >>>>>>> one can expect to have one's head handed to one ..

WoZ standing on his head
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: got his head/hat handed to him

Post by Bobinwales » Sun Apr 17, 2011 7:51 pm

You may be heading in the right direction there WoZ.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: got his head/hat handed to him

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Apr 17, 2011 8:26 pm

Wiz, You go to the head of the class!
__________________

Ken – April 17, 2011
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Re: got his head/hat handed to him

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Apr 17, 2011 11:22 pm

Don't forget to quit while you're still ahead.
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Re: got his head/hat handed to him

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Mon Apr 18, 2011 11:11 pm

And don't stick your head below the parapet.
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Re: got his head/hat handed to him

Post by Ghealy3000 » Fri Apr 24, 2015 3:04 am

I read that no one has heard the "hat handed to him" till the 90's. Jim Croce's Big Bag Leroy Brown talks about "Big Jim got his hat" by hustling people strange to him. Well before the 90's.
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Re: got his head/hat handed to him

Post by tony h » Sat Apr 25, 2015 10:54 am

from a very early age, which I am told is a long time ago, the phrase "had his head given on a platter" or something similar meant the one had been the cause of the downfall of another, or from the head's point of view: collateral damage . Basically a description of Matthew 14, 11

I had always assumed the "head" version without the platter was just laziness.

I have never heard the hat version.
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Signature: tony

With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

End of topic.
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