What Is a Hat Trick? – Meaning & Origin

Photo of author

Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Idiomatic terms and phrases are popular in every language. Unfortunately, their use is lost if your audience is unfamiliar with the term. Idioms are words with figurative meanings rather than literal ones and help create analogies and more interesting conversations.

A hat trick is a great example of this. The phrase originates from the British game of cricket in which a player purchased a hat to celebrate their win (or was allowed to collect money in a hat) if they scored three wickets in three deliveries back to back. The use of the term has expanded into other sports, as well as a generalized way of highlighting success.

Let’s learn about what a hat trick means and how you can use it in speech and writing.

What Does Hat Trick Mean?

What Is a Hat Trick Meaning Origin

A hat trick is three consecutive successes within a short period of time, such as during a sporting event.

For example:

  • Despite being evenly matched at the tennis tournament, Riley dominated his opponents and quickly pulled off a hat trick with a 5-0 win in the last match.
  • Two separate hat tricks during the playoffs helped the Detroit Red Wings advance quickly toward the final winning game.
  • Even though Liam had only scored two goals all season, his hat trick during the regional game surprised everyone, including his school coach, who almost didn’t play him the last half of the game.

Although it has innocent origins, it has been used more recently in promiscuous contexts. We aren’t going to add any examples of that, however (laughing emoji).

Fortunately, a hat trick is most often applied to feats achieved during a sports game, such as three goals scored by one hockey player during one game.

It can also be used figuratively to express general successes.

For example:

  • That makes three consecutive A’s in Philosophy, making my academic success a hat trick of sorts compared to the rest of you.

Hat Trick, Hattrick, or Hat-Trick?

Hat trick is the acceptable spelling when the phrase is used as a noun, but the words can be hyphenated if used as an adjective to modify a noun. Do not create a compound word out of the two words.

For example:

  • Her hat-trick series of shots helped cinch a season win.
British English Hat Trick Ngram
British English hat-trick usage trend.

The British English form of “hat trick” is often hyphenated as well, but American English keeps it almost predominantly as two words.

American English Hat Trick vs Hat Trick Ngram
American English hat trick and hat-trick usage trend.

Hat Trick Origin

Hat Trick Ngram
Hat trick usage trend.

The term originated in the game of cricket in 1879 to describe the taking of three wickets on three consecutive deliveries. Upon completion, the cricket club would buy the bowler (the name of a cricket player) a new hat in commemoration.

However, an alternative explanation to the name is that upon the completion of a hat trick, the bowler was allowed to pass the hat for remuneration.

In 1860, a different sort of “magic trick” using a hat was recorded in which a trickster drank a shot of liquor placed under a hat without even touching it. The following appeared in The book of modern English anecdotes, humour, wit, and wisdom, published in London in 1860:

Place a glass of liquor on the table, put a hat over it, and say, “I will engage to drink every drop of that liquor, and yet I’ll not touch the hat.”… Some one, eager to see if you have drunk the liquor, will raise the hat; when you instantly take the glass and swallow the contents, saying, “Gentlemen I have fulfilled my promise: you are all witnesses that I did not touch the hat.”

The use of the term hat trick was expanded in 1909 to mean the successful completion of three feats in other sports.

Let’s Review

A hat trick is three back-to-back wins, goals, scores, or successes. It is an idiom used to highlight the difficult odds of pulling off such a fete.

Hat trick derives from the game of cricket but is popular in most sports that require a goal to earn points. It is also applied to other sports to explain consecutive wins and general success in life that occur within a short time frame.