What's the origin of "all hat, no cattle"?
July 25, 2004 4:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for the origin of the phrase former Governorof Texas Ann Richards used to describe George W. Bush, "All hat, no cattle." A cursory look has turned up the fact that it's a traditional Texan putdown, but I haven't been able to dig down any further to where it might have originated. Ideas? Similar local or regional putdowns?
posted by JollyWanker to Writing & Language (8 answers total)
I've always heard it said "Big hat, no cattle."
posted by majick at 4:59 PM on July 25, 2004

That gets less than 2,000 Google hits; "all" gets over 5,500. I've generally heard it with "all." Barry Popik investigates the early "big" citations here. There's a reference at Wordorigins here; I think there was a more substantial one in another thread, but I can't find it (Wordorigins' search feature being much, much worse than MetaFilter's).
posted by languagehat at 5:40 PM on July 25, 2004

When I first moved to Texas, I thought it was "All hat, no cat." I've since decided that I like my version better, although I use both.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 5:54 PM on July 25, 2004

There was a correspondence about this in the London Review of Books, about two years ago. Lots of people wrote in with local/regional variations, e.g. 'all mouth and no trousers', 'fur coat and no knickers', 'no bell on your bike and your knickers at half mast'.
posted by verstegan at 11:26 PM on July 25, 2004

JW, I'm not sure what you mean by origin here besides the obvious meaning of the phrase. As a turn of phrase, it's unlikely it can be traced to any one individual or publication, if that's what you mean.

My personal sense, backed up by liberal doses of WAG, is that it dates back roughly to the 1940s when Texas's traditional, agrarian, ranching economy was being tilted on its head by oilmen and an influx of Northeners (or just non-Texan Southerners, who don't necessarily get Texas either) to the Third Coast. These people may have owned ranches as part of a personal fortune but weren't ranchers in their blood, and many may have put on Texas affectations as an entertaining hobby of forced quaintness, which native Texans perceived as patronizing. In return, they had their own scorn for these immigrant dilettantes.
posted by dhartung at 12:55 AM on July 26, 2004

I always thought it meant someone who was all talk and no action, or someone who talked a good game but couldn't deliver on their promises. Someone who's bravado didn't match their abilities. I like dhartung's idea though, of someone who is affected or pretentiously quaint.
posted by pomegranate at 5:37 AM on July 26, 2004

Essentially everything that dhartung mentioned. In much the same respect that an east coast blueblood might refer to someone as 'new money', it is the definition of an interloper. Before the Texas oilfields erupted, Texas was a ranching and agrarian society, with the larger hubs referred to as 'cowtowns'.

That being said, Texans are especially conscious and proud of their nativeness. It's not uncommon to see bumper stickers proclaiming 'Native Texan', or even those that are proud of their second hand 'citizenship' with stickers such as 'I'm not from Texas, but I got here as soon as I could'. So you can see why simply adopting the swagger and forthcoming manner of the natives is basically asking for it.

As far as similar phrases, 'dimestore cowboy' comes to mind.
posted by jazzkat11 at 12:18 PM on July 26, 2004

Will Rogers maybe?
posted by amberglow at 3:42 PM on July 26, 2004

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