We all know that in the footballing world, when someone scores 3 goals, they call it a Hat-trick and when two, a Brace.
I was wondering how these words are related to numbers 3 and 2? Is there any semantic relation? Is there any other word to describe for example 4 goals or 5 goals? Plus, I would love to have some information on their etymology!

  • 5
    These are really two totally unconnected etymologies. A brace is related to the French bras = arm (there are many contexts where it's relevant that humans have two arms). The exact origin of a hat-trick is less certain, but I'd guess it's from the fact that the skilled sportsman is entitled to pass a hat round for donations from fans after a bravura performance. Commented Sep 1, 2013 at 21:38
  • 1
    I think Ronaldo and Messi are expert in this area. Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 7:04
  • FYI, I recall once reading (ca 1965) about WWI fighter pilots (English, I think), and a newspaper headline where one was hailed for getting a "hat trick" -- downed 3 enemy aircraft in one outing. I'd never seen the term before, as it is (or was) only used in the US for hockey.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 21:57
  • Hat trick has a long association with darts as well. Three darts in the center in one throw is a hat trick.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 2:46

2 Answers 2


Hat trick

According to etymonline, ‘hat trick’ comes from:

1879, originally from cricket, "taking three wickets on three consecutive deliveries;" extended to other sports (especially ice hockey) c.1909. Allegedly because it entitled the bowler to receive a hat from his club commemorating the feat (or entitled him to pass the hat for a cash collection), but also influenced by the image of a conjurer pulling things from his hat (attested by 1876). The term was used earlier for a different sort of magic trick:

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." You then get under the table; and after giving three knocks, you make a noise with your mouth, as if you were swallowing the liquor. Then, getting from under the table, say "Now, gentlemen, be pleased to look." 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." ["Wit and Wisdom," London, 1860]

Not really a very interesting etymology at all—not much enlightenment to be found, I fear, just a silly cricket tradition with a hat.


‘Brace’ is more interesting to me. First of all because I didn’t know scoring two goals in a match was called a brace, or anything at all for that matter; but also because it’s more of a ‘real’ etymology.

The word comes from ‘a brace’, which is an old term of venery. It means ‘a pair of [some animal, especially birds] caught in the hunt’. So if you go out looking for dinner, shoot two pheasants, and bring them home, you’ll have a brace of pheasants. It makes sense, then, that a word that means ‘a pair’—in particular, a pair of things that you have managed to obtain through skill—would be a good word to use for scoring two goals in a football match.

The word ‘brace’ itself is related to the verbs ‘to brace’ and ‘to embrace’: the original meaning (from Old French brace) is ‘[a pair of] arms’. ‘To brace’ originally meant ‘clasp/fasten tightly’, which is a plausible meaning for a verb directly derived from the word for an arm. ‘To embrace’ is simply to put something in [your] arms.

Old French brace is quite straightforwardly the regular outcome of Latin bracchia, the plural of the Latin neuter word bracchium ‘arm’, itself a loan from Greek βραχίων ‘arm’. The Greek word is interesting in itself, since it is simply a nominalised form of βραχίων, the comparative of βραχύς ‘short’ (found in English words as the prefix ‘brachy-’). Quite possibly, the word originally meant ‘upper arm’, being then called literally the ‘shorter arm’ (as opposed to the longer lower arm).

Βραχύς, in turn, is related to Latin brevis ‘short’, which (through Old French again) shows up in English as ‘brief’, as well as to some other, rather obscure words (there’s an old Gothic verb gamaurgjan that means ‘to shorten’).

  • Thanks for your answer, but i still don't understand the relation! Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 6:59
  • 1
    The relation between what? Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 7:09
  • between three goals and hat-trick! Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 7:16
  • 2
    That's what I meant by saying it wasn't a very interesting etymology: it was simply that in cricket, a practice had arisen whereby a bowler who had taken three wickets in a row (i.e., scored three times) had the right to do something with a hat. Therefore, taking three wickets became known (influenced by the familiar magic trick of conjuring a rabbit from a hat) as doing a ‘hat trick’. Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 7:26
  • Something that is on etymonline is GR. :)
    – Kris
    Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 6:29

I learned and always thought "hat trick" referred to a ice hockey tradition of fans throwing their hats to the ice when a player got 3 goals. The crowd is "tipping their hats" for the performance.

  • Welcome to EL&U. Can you find any evidence behind this story? This site strongly prefers answers which provide detailed explanations with suitable references.
    – choster
    Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 15:50
  • Considering that the cricket usage is cited about 30 years earlier than the ice hockey usage, I don't think this is correct. It is likely a later folk etymology. Commented Apr 16, 2014 at 16:00

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