Big hat, no cattle

中国日报网 2014-11-18 11:26



Big hat, no cattle

Reader question:

Please explain “big hat, no cattle” in this sentence: “I can only say the results so far are Big Hat, No Cattle.”

My comments:

Here, the speaker means to say that he/she is very disappointed with the results, whatever they are.

If they are talking about an election, expectations of winning must have been widely anticipated because, for example, they’ve spent a lot of money campaigning and advertising and for weeks before voting day, ballot polls had suggested they’d win by a large margin.

Now, the real results are in and their party lost heavily. They’ve got their collective butt kicked, so to speak.

In that case, some time during the long lasting campaign process, we very well may hear the speaker make such a lament – that “the results so far are big hat, no cattle.”

“Big hat, no cattle”, you see, is a variation from the American expression “all hat and no cattle”. Hat refers to the cowboy hat herders wear in the American west. The cowboy hats are big and showy hats with a wide circular edge. They make the cowboys, who also wear tough jeans and trousers, look very impressive. They ride horses and herd cows (cattle) – hence cowboy, the name. The fact that they have cattle to care and fend for suggests that they’re wealthy to some degree, or at least they were in the frontier days.

And in those days, and if people wore cowboy hats but were not seen riding horses and had no cattle to own and herd, they were described negatively as all hat and no cattle.

“All hat” points to the fact they talk a lot and have all the showy stuff while “no cattle” exposes the sad truth that they had no real wealth or talent to speak of in the first place.

Big hat, likewise – he/she can talk the talk, to borrow a boxing expression, but cannot walk the walk.

Or to borrow an expression about dogs, people who are all hat and no cattle are all bark and no bite.

In short, people who are all hat and no cattle are not as good as they say they are.

All right?

Alright, here are recent media examples of such people:

1. Time to get a ringside seat for Martin O'Malley vs. Rick Perry.

In a matchup of potential 2016 presidential candidates, Maryland’s Democratic governor has his dukes up aiming at Perry, as the Texas Republican visits Maryland next week to court companies to move to the Lone Star state.

“I know from past experience that the gentleman is all hat and no cattle,” O'Malley said about Perry on Thursday night. To a Texan, those words are akin to saying, “put ’em up.”

O’Malley later told a Democratic audience that he once debated the Texas governor and “kicked his a--,” according to the Baltimore Sun. “And he’s never come back for more.”

Perry is keeping his options open for another White House bid in 2016 after announcing he won't run for re-election as Texas governor. He's spent the past year crisscrossing the country to talk up Texas as a business-friendly, low-tax state. So far, he's been to California, Illinois, New York, Connecticut and Missouri -- all states led by Democratic governors -- and he’s ruffled political feathers along the way.

Perry’s visit to Maryland is preceded by $500,000 worth of ads bashing the Free State, urging companies to come to Texas “when you grow tired of Maryland taxes squeezing every dime out of your business.”

- Gov. O’Malley: Rick Perry is ‘all hat and no cattle’,, September 13, 2013.

2. Big hat, no cattle is an old cowboy saying, popular in Texas, used to describe someone who pretends to be something he is not. In personal finance it describes people who go into debt to buy big homes, fancy clothes, luxury cars, and exotic vacations (big hat items representing the appearance of wealth). All of this spending prevents them from building up any real wealth (the cattle). As evidenced by the quote from the Old Testament above, this is not a new problem.

This life is all about choices and almost all of us have to choose between big hats and cattle. Very few of us have enough money for both. And the order in which we acquire them is important. If we buy the big hat first we will probably never have the cattle. On the other hand, if we work on building up our herd first there is a good chance we can buy the big hat later, if we still desire it.

The lesson from the excellent book The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, by Thomas J. Stanley and William Danko is that most of the wealthy in America don’t wear very big hats. They budget, control their spending, save, and invest. It is these habits that have allowed them to become wealthy.

- Do You Want Financial Security or the Appearance of Wealth?, December 30, 2013.

3. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his trusty sidekick John Baird may impress the Conservative base as they go swanning about the world standing tall and talking tough over the world’s problems. But what is the reality with respect to our military capabilities?

Has the Navy recovered from the misbehaviour that occurred with HMCS Whitehorse this past July and the mishap on HMCS Protecteur this past March? And while we have deployed CF-18s to Europe, the decision to replaced that aging vet (shelf date 2020) with the U.S. single-engine F-35 is repeatedly kicked into the long grass even though experts say it is not a suitable plane for the Arctic where the PM has just completed a photo-op exercise.

And what young Canadian would want to join our military knowing the indifference the government would exhibit toward them when they returned home?

No, the Lone Ranger and Tonto have little ammunition to back up their talk. As the expression goes, they are “all hat and no cattle.”

- PM’s military disconnect,, September 5, 2014.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Fighting chance

Kangaroo court

Keep them on side

A shot across the bows?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



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