Submitted by ghoti on September 23, 2004

Talking through your hat

A new English expression I have encountered is “talking through your hat”. Does anyone here know anything about this?

I think it must make your voice very muffled! (Joke!)

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All I know is that it means you're saying something ridiculous... I think.

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This expression is reliably dated to at least one hundred years ago, and I'm not sure that even then everyone knew where it came from!

It is slang for talking nonsense, or even lying, to mislead someone. The origin of the phrase may be lost, for all I know. But when hear it I always visualize someone putting their hat up to the side of their mouth as if they were trying to shield what they are saying from anyone else who may be watching.

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Actually, I was talking about this just now with the gal in the next cubicle, who reminded me of the expression (cover your ears if you're sensitive) "talking out of your ass." ("Arse" for you British types.) In other words, you might as well be farting as speaking.

I think it's likely the various expressions of this type (another one I've seen, largely in publications from India, is "talking out of the back of your head") are euphemisms for the cruder statement above, in the same way "gosh darn" is a euphemism for "God damn."

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More common is the phrase "talking out of my hat" as in:

"Now, I may be talking out of my hat, but I think..."; or

"Tell me if you think I'm talking out of my hat, but here's the real reason..."

Talking nonsense? More likely, talking without all the facts or making up stuff -- ad libbing -- if you don't know exactly what you're talking about.

That's what I think.

Of course, I may just be talking . . .

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I'm stretching for this one, but since a baker, a policeman, an official in uniform all wear hats according to their profession, perhaps 'talking out of your hat' referrs to someone who speaks about something it isn't within their training or profession to know.

Or perhaps it means that you're using your hat instead of your head? Speaking without thinking.

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Okay, this may have nothing to do with the expression, but I came across a rather interesting parallel story regarding the expression, "Talking out of your hat."

It seems when the prophet and founder of the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith, was composing "THE BOOK OF MORMON" (and I am now quoting from the book by Fawn M. Brodie, "NO MAN KNOWS MY HISTORY THE LIFE OF JOSEPH SMITH" {Pg.61, Vintage Books Addition, August, 1995} ), as follows:

"David Whitmer, a young farmer from Fayette, New York, and a friend of Cowdrey, paid a visit and watched the process of translation with great wonder. "Joseph Smith", he said, "would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in darkness the spiritual light would shine"... "Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God"...

It seems that Joseph Smith would not allow anyone to lay eyes on the mysterious gold plates from which he supposedly translated the entire Book of Mormon. Instead, he would place the metal plates into a hat, and translate into prophecy (by the use of a "seer stone"), the images from the plates.

As I read these and other passages from the book, the expression "talking out of your hat" suddenly popped into my mind. Since so many people seem to disbelieve in the validity or legitimacy of the Mormon faith, I wondered if somehow this phrase had long ago risen in reference to the arguably dubious nature of Joseph Smith's translations of his golden plates.

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First of all, Fawn Brodie's book is fascinating and insightful. That aside, I had thought the phrase was "talking 'through' one's hat, meaning concerning things about which the speaker is not truly knowledgeable.

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In addition to Joseph Smith putting his face in the hat, he would read each character as it appeared on the stone that he had placed in the hat. Oliver Cowdery had to sit on the other side of a curtain and write down each word or character that Smith read. Cowdery would read it back to Smith. If it was correct, the vision would dissappear from the stone in the hat and the next image would appear. If Cowdery did not read it back correct, the image would persist until read correctly.
As this was supposedly a translation direct from the rhelms of God, one would presume it was perfect in context and information. After the first Book of Mormon was published, readers found hundreds of mistakes and obvious errors in the stories. Subsequent versions were found to contain thousands of errors, including changes in names of who did what. As the BoM and the faith gain the reputation as a scham, the original method of its translation became known as "Talking through his hat".

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My parents always used the expression "talking through the back of his hat". I have no idea where the expression comes from, but had always understood it to mean that the speaker had no idea what he was talking about. The implication is that it is not a deliberate attempt to mis-lead the audience, but more simply someone who appears to believe what they are saying, but in truth does not. I came across this article after a colleague Googled the expression when I used it in the office. I had checked my facts with another colleague before responding to a technical e-mail from a supplier, and said that I just wanted to make sure that when I replied I wouldn't be talking through the back of my hat. To me, this was a perfectly normal expression, but it raised a few eyebrows, and hence caused me to read this site. So, I felt it only right to put my experience forward. I shall probably visit this site more in the future, as the overall subject of where expressions like this come from is fascinating, in my opinion.

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