I heard the expression being handed your hat being used to mean that you are invited to leave. What is its origin and what are the possible variations?
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The Phrase Finder has the following excellent summary of this phrase's origin, which goes so far as to include a couple variations:
"Was handed his hat" gets 123 results on Google; using "her" gets 33, "their" gets 14, "being handed his hat" has 97, etc. I'd say it receives a respectable amount of attention, by no means ostentatious. To compare, "was shown the door" gets 560 results.
The first three instances of "handed him his hat" that a Google Books search for the years 1700 through 2000 finds are from 1843, 1845, and 1846. Here they are, in context. From Ben Bradshawe: The Man Without a Head (1843):
From a translation of Johann Jung-Stilling, Theobald, or the Fanatic: A True History (1845):
And from "Hochelaga," in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (October 1846):
All three of these instances involve a departure—in the first case initiated by the person who receives his hat, in the other two by a person or persons anxious to see the recipient out of the building. It should be clear from the second and third examples that being handed your hat can serve as a far-from-oblique hint to quit the premises.
One odd variant that I've noticed in recent years involves being "handed your head." From Clayton Crockett, Religion and Violence in a Secular World: Toward a New Political Theology (2006):
The sense of the variant expression is "chopped off his head and handed it back to him [sometimes, on a platter]"—not a very logical way to show someone the door, perhaps, but quite vivid.
The ealiest instance of this form of the expression that a Google Books search discloses is from Israel Magazine, volume 2 (1970) [combined snippets], where the meaning seems less metaphorical than it usually is in later instances:
The next-earliest instance in the same search is from John Leonard, Black Conceit (1973) [combined snippets]:
Here again, the suggestion of head-handing has a connection to some actual danger of beheading. Such is not the case with the occurrence in Shirly Tuska & Joseph Jenks, Teacher Personalities: A Mirror of Self (1974) [combined snippets]:
The two expressions thus seem somewhat different in sense: "hand [a person] [his or her] hat" means to unceremoniously dismiss the person, and the closest matches for it among idiomatic expressions are probably (as Daniel notes in his answer) "send [someone] packing" and "show [someone] the door; "hand [a person] [his or her] head" can have the overlapping meaning of getting rid of someone, but the sense of the expressions is more aggressive and (at least metaphorically) violent, and the closest idiomatic expressions are probably "bite [someone's] head off" or "have [someone's] head." In the context of firing someone, you might say either "handed [the person] [his or her] hat" or "handed [the person] [his or her] head"‚or you might use a third expression such as "gave [the person] [his or her] walking papers."
In more modern terms... Many folks wear baseball hats. Being handed your hat would be the result if you were involved in the losing end of an altercation. If someone punches you hard enough in the face it will usually knock you to the ground quite naturally your hat will be knocked off in that process. Hence, having your hat handed to you as you're getting up dazed, now you can leave cause you just been beat!
"You have been handed your hat." So to speak terms means " you have been shown the door" but that door may have a better opportunity on the other side that you were not exspecting.