hat over wall

“Throw your hat over the wall” is a delightful expression that suggests (not unlike “throwing your hat
into the ring”) that once you’ve put your hat somewhere, you’re obliged to follow it.

I’ve lost a few hats in his lifetime and managed to get over the loss relatively swiftly, yet I still find this old Irish expression quite powerful.throw hat over the wall - diagram

Throwing a hat over the wall suggests that, in the face of an obstacle standing between you and your goal, the first step is to act swiftly to commit yourself.

In so doing, the next thing (the actual conquering of the obstacle) becomes something of a foregone conclusion. You have done more than just commit; throwing your cap over the wall is a promise you make to yourself.

In this spirit I’ve taken to setting myself arbitrary deadlines, and generally throwing a few hats over a number of walls, in order to spur myself into action.


It’s not just hats

Throwing your hat over the wall is such a rich image. It encapsulates not just the situation, it also gives insight into the character, and the attributes required to effectively deal with a situation.

But it only applies to a limited set of circumstances, so I’ve come up with a few more hopefully equally evocative expressions that we can use in other situations.

  1. Punch the moose: This is when you need to retreat from a tricky situation, but don’t have the wherewithal to do so. So you punch that moose right in the nose and are then forced to run, so that you don’t get kicked to death. Now that’s incentive!
  2. Organise the sock drawer: A therapeutic and calming activity which still yields a productive and tangible goal, without being obviously onerous. It’s important to have a few of these types of activities in your life. They’re meditative, but without requiring you to actually sit still for extended periods of time.
  3. Meet the mailman: if you’re eager for news, you don’t just sit at home and wait idly for it to arrive, you can actually go out and meet the mailman. This cuts out the time spent idly waiting for those important letters to arrive.
  4. Preheat the oven: When you’re thinking of baking something (an idea, an entrepreneurial venture, a cake) you turn the oven on to preheat which, as an energy conscious person, spurs you to get those preparations done, so no energy or time is wasted.
  5. Fire the lion tamer: When public opinion turned sharply against enslaved bears riding bikes, lions being disciplined, and other cruelties, the circus pivoted into being a generally cruelty-free visual extravaganza. One that’s far more creative and spectacular. Sometimes it’s best to just fire the lion tamer, and make room for your organisation to do what’s really at its core.
  6. Put a quarter under the pillow: There’s something beautiful about the lengths parents go to keep the elaborate mythology of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy alive for as long as they do. They don’t do it for credit and accolades, they do it for the joy it gives. So if someone you care about is having a rough time, or lost that sense of wonder, find a way to give them a little bit of that magic. Put a quarter under their pillow, so to speak.

Those are all the expressions I’ve come up with for the moment. Feel free (or obliged) to drop them into conversation as often as you can, so we can get them into general circulation. In the process you’ll not only be making our language more colourful, you’ll also be putting a quarter under my pillow.