Sunday, March 9, 2008

All Hat and No Cattle: Reclaiming A Great Insult

Hillary Clinton slammed Barack Obama before the Texas primary for being "all hat and no cattle" - or, all talk and no action, someone who put on a good show, talked a good case, but didn't have the goods.

It was an empty critique of Obama, and the people of Texas agreed, at least in part, since Obama actually won more delegates in Texas than did Clinton, even though she won the popular vote.

But, as an Obama supporter, I don't want my irritation at Hillary's use of this phrase to dilute or distract from what I think is one of the best insults to come down the pike in a long time. Actually, it's been around for a while - there are quotes in the Wiktionary going back to 1980 - but I heard for the first time just a few weeks ago, so I've got to thank Hillary Clinton for that.

Now, what I really like about the phrase is how sheer, audacious rhyme makes it shine.

After all, although Texans wear big hats and herd cattle, the two don't have much else in common other than their rhyme.

But put together in a rhyming insult, the phrase invites further analysis and deeper insult. A hat is worn on the head, cattle are forces of nature that we tame and eat, so all hat and no cattle reinforces the distinction between thinking and empty talking, which we do with our heads, and changing, taming the world and rendering it fit for our human consumption and life.

Ok, enough professor-of-metaphoring ... Does anyone recall if anyone ever used this insult against J. R. Ewing in Dallas?
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