What's a Hat Trick, and Why Do We Call It That?

A hat trick isn't just for magicians. 

Samantha Enslen, Writing for
3-minute read


Women’s soccer. The World Cup. Carli Lloyd. These phrases have been ubiquitous the past two weeks. It seems like everyone is talking about the amazing final of the Women’s World Cup.

You know, the final where U.S. player Carli Lloyd made three goals in the first 16 minutes of the game? Where she led the U.S. team to a stunning 5–2 victory over Japan? That final.

Another phrase we keep hearing recently is hat trick.

As in ...

•        Lloyd hat-trick inspires U.W. World Cup victory

•        Hat-trick hero Lloyd dreams big and wins World Cup

•        Carli Lloyd has 372 text messages after hat trick

What is a hat trick, anyway? And why do we call it that?

A hat trick refers broadly to any clever maneuver, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

It refers specifically to three achievements that happen in a row. Three consecutive goals in soccer, for example, or three consecutive runs in baseball.

This three-in-a-row usage originated with cricket. In that game, a hat trick refers to three wickets taken by a bowler in three consecutive balls. Apparently, a bowler who achieved this feat was traditionally rewarded with a hat. Thus, the term hat trick was born.

The term remained a Britishism for much of this century, starting to appear regularly in U.S. English only in the 1970s. It’s probably no coincidence that the 1970s are when soccer first started to get big in the United States.

With Carli Lloyd’s recent hat trick, we can expect it to only get bigger.

And that’s your tidbit for today: a hat trick is any three achievements that happen in a row, such as three goals in a soccer game.

Note: After we published this article, several readers wrote to remind us that the term “hat trick” predates the 1970s soccer surge in the United States. 

Reader Henry Ickes wrote this: “I seem to recall hearing references to ice hockey players ‘scoring hat tricks’ when I was growing up in and near New York City in the 1960s. Could the term have been used only in the ‘original six’ National Hockey League cities?” (Teams from these cities—Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, New York, and Toronto—formed the National Hockey League between 1942 and 1967.)

Reader Ted Roseman wrote this: “The hat trick terminology has been around forever in the ice hockey world. In fact, when a hockey player scores three goals, the fans throw their hats on the ice. It dates back to around the 1940s in the NHL.” 

Score one for Roseman. In 1946, a Chicago Blackhawks player stopped into a haberdashery in Toronto, right before his team was scheduled to play the Toronto Maple Leafs.

On the spur of the moment, shop owner Sammy Taft offered the player a free hat if he scored three goals during the game. The player did it. The hat was awarded. And a tradition began. 

Through the mid-1950s, Taft continued to give hats to any player who scored thrice in Maple Leaf Stadium. The tradition was taken up by fans, who today continue to throw their hats onto the ice when a player scores three times in one game. 


Curious? Just Google “NHL hat trick” to see it for yourself.


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



Ammer, Christine. Hat trick. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. Oxford University Press. http://bit.ly/1RxiFR5 (subscription required, accessed July 13, 2015).

Room, Adrian. Hat trick. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 15th ed. Harper Collins, 1995.


 Magician hand with wand and hat 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.