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Hat trick

Q From Carol Farrell and others: What is the origin of the term hat trick, used to describe a series of three victories in sports?

A It comes from the English game of cricket and refers to a bowler who takes three wickets with three successive balls. For those more familiar with baseball, this is an impressive achievement, similar to a baseball pitcher striking out three batters in a row, but much less common. It seems to have been the custom in the nineteenth century for such a paragon of the art to be awarded a new hat by his club as a mark of his success. However, it is sometimes also said that the phrase alludes to a distinctly more plebeian reward in which the bowler was permitted to take his hat around the crowd for a collection (not necessarily a bowler hat, of course: that was named after a couple of completely different chaps, Messrs Thomas and William Bowler, hatmakers). Hat trick was first recorded in print in the 1870s, but has since been widened to apply to any sport in which the person competing carries off some feat three times in quick succession, such as scoring three goals in one game of soccer.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 27 Jan. 2001

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 27 January 2001.