When I was writing here yesterday I used the phrase ‘old hat’ meaning hackneyed or corny, and then I thought – does anyone use that expression any more? Also does anyone say something is corny? Or even hackneyed? Where does ‘old hat’ come from? Is it generally used or is it another of my Dad’s expressions?
‘Old hat’ is actually a well-known phrase or saying and dates back several centuries – well the use of it but the meaning is somewhat different these days to what it meant in the seventeenth century. ‘Old hat’ as we mean it now was first used in this way by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in his novel Brother Copas, published in 1911:
And the difference is not that religion has ceased to teach it – for it hasn’t – but that men have grown decent and put it, with like doctrines, silently aside in disgust. So it has happened with Satan and his fork: they have become ‘old hat’.
While in search of the origin I became slightly side-tracked by Sir Arthur, and also by George Grose who used the other and rather impolite meaning of the phrase. Sir Arthur Q-C who wrote under the initial ‘Q’ – which is how I first came across him as a child haunting the local library, was born in Bodmin in Cornwall in 1863. However he lived most of his life on the small town of Fowey which my husband has a very strong connection with as he lived there for many years as a child. We’re planning to visit later in the year and I will definitely be going to the parish church of St Fimbarrus where Sir Arthur is buried, and possibly also to Truro to see his memorial.
Q wrote an incredible thirty-five novels and also began one which was finished after his death, by Daphne du Maurier. He was a poet and he also wrote books of literary criticism and curated poetry anthologies. He had two children, his son Bevil was a WW1 war hero who served from 1914-1918 but tragically died as a result of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1919. Q’s daughter Foy (was she named for Fowey where they lived?) was a great friend of Daphne du Maurier, and apparently they were out riding together when they came across Jamaica Inn which inspired Daphne’s famous and much-loved novel.
Throughout his life he received many honours including being knighted in 1910 and being made a bard of Gorsedh Kernow in 1928, taking the Bardic name Marghak Cough meaning ‘Red Knight’ in Kernewek.
Sir Arthur died at the age of eighty in his beloved Cornwall. Here is an interesting article about him: