Legal word of the week-[Hat] Series by Alan M L Jones.

FICL brings "Legal word of the week" Series by Alan M L Jones, Lawyer, teacher and skills coach based out of London. Creator of ACE Legal English online courses for corporate lawyers.
Legal word of the week-[Hat] Series by Alan M L Jones.


Here are two questions from the ACE Legal English online courses which look at idioms, particularly those which involve hats.



The regional practice area heads of a large international law firm are discussing important strategic issues – Angela from New York, Bill from London, Claud from Paris and Dai Li from Shanghai.

A: Have you heard the news about the senior partner election?

B: The last I heard there were three candidates.

A: Yes but now there are four - Jane has just thrown her [hat] into the ring.

B: Well I really take my [hat] off to her for having the [guts] to put herself forward but I'll eat my [hat] if she wins. I didn't think she'd have the [stomach] for the fight but good luck to her.

1. Learning point

Think of your listener / reader!

Don't use idioms unless you are sure your listener / reader will understand.

The real target of these comments are native speakers who lack the sense and good manners to think of their listener / reader.

However it also applies to non-native speakers when, probably much less often, they are considering using idiom.

2. Explanations

2.1 Hats

If you throw your hat into the ring you announce / declare that you are standing for election to a position / office.

If you take your hat off to somebody you admire them for what they have done or are doing.


As you may know this is the French word for hat and these days many young people just say “chapeau” instead of “I take my hat off to you”.

I'll eat my hat if … means I'll be very surprised if …

2.2 Guts and heart

If you have guts you are brave.

Sports writers like talking of a gutsy performance usually by an underdog i.e. somebody who is not expected to win.

If you have guts / are gutsy, you are full of heart – you try hard.

In contrast, a half-hearted performance is where you don’t really try.

Full of heart can also mean kind and loving.

2.3 Stomach

If you have the stomach for something you are able to endure the challenge / you are “up for” the challenge.

This is not to be confused with I can't stomach somebody or something which means you don't like them or it.

Belly and tummy are informal words for “stomach” and tend to be used with prominent / fat stomachs as in beer belly – a fat stomach from drinking lots of beer

The opposite is a washboard stomach one that is flat with prominent muscles. It looks like a washboard, a bumpy wooden device which people used to wash clothes before the days of washing machines.


I really don’t understand why they’re arguing the point.

They're talking [through] their hats and haven’t got a leg to stand [on].

Anyway, I've given them our comments [on] the points they've raised.

1 Idioms

If you're taking through your hat, you're talking nonsense.

If you haven't got a leg to stand on, you're in a weak position.

2 A mistake I sometimes see is ...

...our comments to on the points raised.

Perhaps my student was getting confused by the following which is correct -

"to give your comments on the draft to the client / the other side's lawyers!

3 Other hat idioms

a) Keep what I've just told you under your hat - don't tell anybody else / keep it secret

Alternatives (without hats) :

"What I've just told you is [strictly] for your ears only / between you and me / between you, me and these four walls."

Possible replies:

“Don't worry, your secret is safe with me.”

“I won't tell a soul. Mum's the word”

b) I take my hat off to him for what he's done - I respect / admire him.

Informally you'll hear this shortened to Chapeau ! - the French for hat.

About Alan M L Jones

Qualified as a solicitor more than 35 years ago and has practised for many years mostly in London but also further afield in Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Tokyo. Alan has been both a lawyer and a communication / language teacher for years and used his experience to create the ACE Legal English online courses for non-native speaker lawyers. The courses are very engaging and relevant and are the first of their kind.

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