Old hat
Posted: 11 October 2013 04:14 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Recently ran into this story about the phrase old hat.  Any truth to it?  What do we know about the reliability of Francis Grose?

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Posted: 11 October 2013 05:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The term old hat in that sense is well attested in the eighteenth century. Besides the citations in the OED, it also appears in Tristram Shandy. But as the article and the OED state, Grose’s proposed etymology is certainly facetious.

But I don’t buy Curzan’s argument that because it appears in Farmer and Henley that the slang meaning was current in the late-nineteenth century. The cites in F&H are all eighteenth century, except for the 1811 Lexicon Balatronicon, which is another edition of Grose. F&H, and other slang dictionaries of the era, are known to plunder older glossaries for terms and definitions. The term’s appearance in F&H doesn’t mean it was then current.

My dissertation advisor once brought the term to my attention in regard to Aldhelm, but he was joking.

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Posted: 12 October 2013 12:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I was surprised to see persona grata listed as a ‘missing positive’. I have certainly seen and heard it used; and while I can’t say it’s something I need to say very often, if the occasion arose to use it I certainly would, without any sense that it was an odd thing to say.

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Posted: 12 October 2013 03:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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If you skip back to The New Yorker article that inspired this article you’ll find “furling”, another word I find curious in this context.

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Posted: 12 October 2013 05:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Same goes for “mitigate”, and also for “maculate” (though I don’t think one would often find the latter word outside a zoological or botanical treatise)

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Posted: 12 October 2013 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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When I got to this point in the Curzan article my eyes rolled so hard I’m surprised I could still see:

My next thought: I’m never using that expression again.

I just can’t fathom the thought processes of someone who discovers a centuries-old, long forgotten, utterly irrelevant sense of a word or phrase and is so concerned for their own ideological purity that their reaction is “I’m never using that expression again.” I don’t even care whether she winds up using it, after giving the matter sober consideration; to even have that thought strikes me as utter folly.

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Posted: 12 October 2013 07:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I think she was tongue-in-cheek because she goes on to say:

It’s tempting in a case like this to fall into the etymological fallacy and argue that the phrase’s past meanings continue to determine or at least inflect its current meaning, and so the phrase is forever tainted. But a phrase means what it means in current use, and OED gets the current meaning right with its second definition:

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Posted: 12 October 2013 11:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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ElizaD - 12 October 2013 07:44 AM

I think she was tongue-in-cheek because she goes on to say:

It’s tempting in a case like this to fall into the etymological fallacy and argue that the phrase’s past meanings continue to determine or at least inflect its current meaning, and so the phrase is forever tainted. But a phrase means what it means in current use, and OED gets the current meaning right with its second definition:

That’s the way I read it as well.

On the other hand, I’m never using the word “porcelain” again.

On another note, those who have been in the armed forces immediately learn the nickname for the Garrison or Overseas Cap, which seems to provide a similar image as the original “old hat”. I asked a young woman who is currently in the Army about that and she said, “We don’t have them anymore [replaced, evidently, by berets], but I know what they were called.” There is something odd about men putting things on their heads that remind them of other things.

[ Edited: 12 October 2013 11:20 AM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 12 October 2013 11:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I think she was tongue-in-cheek because she goes on to say:

It’s tempting in a case like this to fall into the etymological fallacy and argue that the phrase’s past meanings continue to determine or at least inflect its current meaning, and so the phrase is forever tainted. But a phrase means what it means in current use, and OED gets the current meaning right with its second definition

I know, I was relieved by that too, but then at the end she says:

While the phrase may be neutral now, the current meaning did not, I would argue, arise independently from its earlier, sexual meaning. Each of us then has the power to decide what to do with that knowledge.

That doesn’t sound tongue-in-cheek to me; it sounds like she’s saying the equivalent of “Well, it turns out he did time for sexual offenses in his youth.  You can decide what to do with that knowledge.” I may be overreacting, but I’m touchy about this stuff.

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Posted: 12 October 2013 01:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I’m not in the least surprised at this woman’s reaction. She lives in a world in which she and her immediate circle may be relatively liberated, but in which 90% or more of women are ruthlessly debased, many of them to the level of chattel slaves, sex toys and beasts of burden—in a word, merchandise. To such a person, the song must come as a reminder that such freedom as she has is only recently acquired, and extremely precarious, not to say superficial. As Oeco reminds us, women in the US armed forces may have to listen to their headgear being referred to by their male comrades-in-arms as “cunt caps” and “vagina covers”. What price women’s lib?

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Posted: 12 October 2013 02:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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An old discussion of “old hat”, just because.

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Posted: 13 October 2013 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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To such a person, the song must come as a reminder that such freedom as she has is only recently acquired, and extremely precarious, not to say superficial.

A random etymological discovery causes her to reach that drastic conclusion?  (Not that she said anything about that; it’s your interpretation.) And I honestly don’t understand how a nineteenth-century bit of slang says anything at all about how “precarious, not to say superficial” today’s gains by women might be.  You might as well say that because there’s a lot of nasty language casually used about black people and Jews a century back, those groups should worry that their present position is precarious.  I don’t see it.

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Posted: 13 October 2013 07:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Let’s agree to disagree. Fortunate you, to live in such a safe world. Would that it were equally safe for everybody, everywhere.

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Posted: 13 October 2013 01:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I think the keywords here are “immediate reaction.” In other words, her emotional response. Part of the picture but not the whole story as the article makes clear. We don’t get to choose our emotional responses, we only chose what we do with them; as she clearly states. It’s like saying you can’t understand how people can be afraid of spiders just because you’re not.

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