'Tip Your Hat' or 'Tip Your Hand'?

Here's why you might tip your hat to a football coach but tip your hand to a real estate agent.

Samantha Enslen, Writing for
2-minute read
Episode #657

Keith, one of our regular listeners, wrote in recently to ask about two similar idioms. He wasn’t sure about the difference between “tip your hand” and “tip your hat.” 

Keith, here’s the story. 

'Tip Your Hat' Means to Acknowledge an Accomplishment

To “tip your hat” means to acknowledge something awesome that someone else did. You might tip your hat to the football coach who suggested a winning play. Or tip your hat to your dad if he made an extra-delicious dinner.

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This expression dates all the way back to the 1600s, when it was customary for men to wear hats when they were outside the home. You would “tip your hat”—that is, touch your hand to the brim or lift the whole thing off your head—to greet someone or acknowledge their presence. You’d also take off your hat completely when you entered a building or sat down to eat, as a way of showing respect. 

As John Donne put it in one of his poems: “…when thou meet’st one … raise thy formal hat.”

A variation of this phrase is “hats off to …,” as in “Hats off to Susie, our employee of the month!” And it’s related to the expression “hat in hand.” If you go to someone hat in hand, you approach them with extreme deference, usually to ask for a favor or beg for charity. Your hat would be in your hand as a sign of respect and submission.

'Tip Your Hand' Means to Reveal Your Strategy

Let’s look at our next idiom. To “tip your hand” means to accidentally reveal your intentions before you mean to. For example, you might “tip your hand” if you let a real estate agent know much you love the house you’re looking at. Now they know that if you try to negotiate on price, they can just hold firm and you won’t walk away.

This expression was first seen in the early 1900s, when it was sometimes expressed as to “tip your mitt.” It’s believed to come from card games, where if you tip your hand too far forward, you would expose your cards to the opposing player. 

Doing so would be the exact opposite of “playing things close to the vest,” another expression that comes from card games. It means to reveal almost nothing of your thoughts or strategy. You can picture players literally holding their cards right by their chest, so no one else could see them. 

So, that’s your tidbit for today. To “tip your hat” is to acknowledge someone’s accomplishment or status. To “tip your hand” means to accidentally reveal your intentions. 

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or @DragonflyEdit.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Samantha Enslen, Writing for Grammar Girl

Samantha Enslen is an award-winning writer who has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. She runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides copywriting, editing, and design for scientific, medical, technical, and corporate materials. Sam is the vice president of ACES, The Society for Editing, and is the managing editor of Tracking Changes, ACES' quarterly journal.