I found the phrase, “pull her out of the hat” in the following sentence of the quote from Frank Bailey, the most relied-upon former aide of Ms.Sarah Palin, whose memoir, “Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin: A Memoir of Our Tumultuous Years” is due out on Tuesday this week.

“I doubt if there's anything new in this book, just more detailed views of the gruesome story of her rise and fall. What would really be interesting is an account of who made the decisions in the GOP to pull her out of the hat. It certainly wasn't McCain.”

I don’t find the idiom, “pull one out of the hat” in any dictionaries at hand. Does it mean to “pick up” (Sarah Palinfor (vice) presidential candidate) or “remove her from (the candidate seat)? Can somebody teach me the meaning of this phrase?

  • Typo: Palinfor > Palin for (insert space).
    – TRiG
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 20:38

3 Answers 3


To pull something (rare: somebody) out of a hat is a reference to magic. It is an idiom:

Produce suddenly and surprisingly, as if by magic. For example, We can't just pull the answers out of a hat . This expression alludes to the magician's trick of pulling some unexpected object out of a hat. That object is often a rabbit, and the expression pull a rabbit out of a hat is often used to mean "get magical results," as in "Much as I would like to be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat, I doubt if I can find further funding for this project."

In the context you provide, it seems like the decision to appoint Palin as a candidate was a surprising, sudden, and (possibly) random decision of the GOP. It is not said in this case with any positive connotation.

  • /Jeffsahol. Oh, Jesus! If it were “pull a pigeon out of a hat,” I could have easily made it out. And I think I’ve learned that kind of idiom before. But, it didn’t come to my mind that Sarah Palin was just a simile of pigeon at all. Commented May 25, 2011 at 2:30
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    @Yoichi: Are you familiar with the term 'birdbrained' ;) Here is one of her infamous quotes about English (appropriate for this site) "'Refudiate,' 'misunderestimate,' 'wee-wee'd up.' English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!'" -- One of Palin's tweets. She certainly has a high estimation of herself among great authors.
    – gbutters
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 12:44

I agree that the sentence sounds awkward. You normally hear the phrase "pulled her name out of a hat" as an idiom for having a lottery-style choice. I find "to produce something seemingly out of nowhere" as a possible meaning for the phrase, but generally that refers to objects (and rabbits), not people.

  • +1; gbutters mentions randomness but not drawing lots from a hat...
    – Wooble
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 19:38

The original phrase is to "pull a rabbit out of a hat." That is to perform a magic trick. (Rabbits usually aren't found in people's hats.)

In this context, McCain's candidacy was sputtering. To revive it, he had to "pull a rabbit out of a hat." He hoped that "rabbit" would be Sarah Palin. In one sense, his action went "true" to the quote; no one expected Palin. But unlike the usual case with the magic trick, the "audience" was NOT impressed.

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