When Languages Collide: The Ten Gallon Hat

Illustration by Bob Boze Bell
Illustration by Bob Boze Bell

Many people incorrectly assume the term “ten gallon hat” refers to the amount of water that will fit in the crown of a big hat, but the term more likely a corruption of the Spanish phrase “tan galón,” which means “so gallant.” When English speakers would ask a vaquero what kind of hat he was wearing, the vaquero would proudly reply, a sombrero “tan galón.” In the early 1920s someone either misheard, or sarcastically mangled, tan galón into ten gallon.

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