I allowed myself to stray briefly into a political discussion this week, and an expression came up that I’ve used frequently without ever wondering about its origin.
The idiom in question: to throw one’s hat in the ring.
We know what it means, of course – to enter the race, to join a contest, etc. – but where does the expression come from? Boxing, it turns out.
In the early days of boxing, bare fist or otherwise, the rings were literal rings formed by spectators. To offer yourself up as a fighter, or to challenge another, you simply threw your hat in the ring.
The first recorded use of the term in a boxing context occurred in the early 1800s. But how did it evolve into a political saying? We have avid boxer, and 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., to thank for that.
In 1912, a reporter asked Roosevelt about his plans to challenge incumbent President Howard Taft, who had succeeded him. Old Teddy’s response? “My hat is in the ring; the fight is on and I’m stripped to the buff.”
Roosevelt went on to split from the mainstream Republican Party of the era and formed the short-lived Progressive Party, otherwise known as the Bull Moose Party, of 1912. His political ambitions to reclaim the presidency for progressivism ultimately failed, but his bullish, boxer’s response to politics took root, especially with his use of the idiom.
Today you’ll hear politicians and pundits alike talk about who’s throwing their hat into an upcoming political race. Fortunately, despite how divided the parties seem to be these days, politics rarely comes to fisticuffs.