I found the phrase “old hat” in the following sentence of The New York Times’ article (April 20) titled, “The Tech-Savvy Traveler.”

AT 28 years old, Soraya Darabi is an old hat at staying on the cutting edge of social media. Her first job out of college was in the communications department for Condé Nast Digital for products like epicurious.com. At 23, she became the manager of digital partnerships and social media at The New York Times and went on to help found Foodspotting (foodspotting.com), a Web site and digital application that aggregates real-time dining advice.

What did the journalist mean when she wrote "an old hat"?

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    Have you looked this up anywhere? What did you find? – Hugo May 6 '12 at 20:12
  • @Hugo, et al: Yes, old hat is general reference, but the issue here is that the writer made a mistake. See the answers below. – Callithumpian May 7 '12 at 4:41

What may be confusing in this passage is that the phrase old hat is usually used to describe objects or activities with which one is very familiar. The correct way for this author to use the phrase would have been to write:

Staying on the cutting edge of social media is old hat for 28 year-old Soraya Darabi.

According to the blog Publisher's Round-up, the author made a mistake in this passage and should have used the phrase old hand:

old hand |oʊld hønd|

noun a person with a lot of experience in something : he was an old hand at red-tape cutting.

(As an added twist, The Phrase Finder, claims the saying old hat may have originally referred to a woman's private parts. I imagine this would have made the above mistake less forgivable to an earlier audience.)

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  • Surely you have researched your answer better than me; however, the first meaning of the definitions in Wikipedia is "Something ... in which one is experienced or skilled". Not so very different from the meaning you posted, I'd say. – Paola May 6 '12 at 21:03
  • @Paola: No, I agree. However, the key here is that the author confused two idioms and so confused readers. – Callithumpian May 6 '12 at 21:08
  • Fair enough, then. Not being a native speaker, I did not realize that something in the wording was bizarre, although I knew the expression "to be an old hand". Still, I think that your comment to my post has provoked the downvote it got... – Paola May 6 '12 at 21:13
  • @Paola: That was me. I'll reverse it if you edit out the admonition. – Callithumpian May 6 '12 at 21:17
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    Done, but I still think he should have checked a bit more. – Paola May 6 '12 at 21:22

That's an error on the part of the writer. She's conflating two expressions.

One is old hat, a phrasal adjective referring to "something widely or long practiced, known, or accepted; something conventional". So, "90s singer Madonna is old-hat." (NB: not "Madonna is an old-hat.")

The other is an old hand, "a person who is experienced at a certain activity". Here, a "hand" is a sailor, as in "all hands on deck".

The New York Times used to be a well-edited newspaper; those Times are gone forever, I fear.

EDIT: Callithumpian points out that this particular error has already been the subject of the online thrashing it deserves.

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  • +1 for adding the last line about NYT. I think it's no more a newspaper but a mouthpiece of anti-free market ideologues. – user2532 May 6 '12 at 23:15
  • @Cameron -- and here I was, expecting +1 for the Don Henley reference. But lesson learned: the key to upvotes is gratuitous attacks on the MSM. – Malvolio May 7 '12 at 0:46
  • +1 for great answer, but I accepted @Callithumpian 's answer because he was the first to point out the journalist error. – user19148 May 7 '12 at 11:38
  • @Carlo: Actually, I believe Malvolio beat me to writer's error part. I just found corroboration of it at another site. If you'd like to switch your acceptance, I'm fine with that. – Callithumpian May 8 '12 at 4:18
  • Carlo -- I was first on this thread but @Callithumpian found the posting on another blog from a week earlier discussing the error, which is cool. – Malvolio May 8 '12 at 7:29

I've found explanations for "old hat" in OALD, in TheFreeDictionary, but the best explanation is here in Wikipedia.

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    @Callithumpian. Sorry if I gave the wrong impression, I didn't mean to scold (that is, to speak angrily to somebody, especially a child, because they have done something wrong, as OALD defines it) and I hope Carlo will not be put off by my remark. Sometimes I'm under the impression that his interventions, either questions or answers, are a bit too rushed and that they would profit from a more careful approach. – Paola May 6 '12 at 20:56
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    @Kris, a better way to answer would be to include the relevant part of the linked answer in the answer here, as the link may change (and in the case of Wikipedia, almost certainly the content will change). – Old Pro May 6 '12 at 21:37
  • @OldPro. I'll try to do it in the future. For the time being, you can refer to the exchange of comments between Callithumpian and me in the post above mine. – Paola May 6 '12 at 21:42
  • @Old Pro Thank you, but we are old hats around here. – Kris May 6 '12 at 21:51
  • @Paola - +1, although my question had the purpose to show the journalist usage of 'old hat', rather than to know its meaning. – user19148 May 7 '12 at 11:34