"Big hat and no cattle” (or “all hat and no cattle") means someone who boasts a lot ("talks out of one’s hat"), but doesn’t have the means to back it up.
“Big hat, no cattle” has been cited in print since at least 1944. “All show and no go” is a similar expression.
Wiktionary: all hat and no cattle
big hat, no cattle
all hat and no cattle
1.(US, idiomatic) Full of big talk but lacking action, power, or substance; pretentious.
all bark and no bite, all bluff and bluster, all booster, no payload, all crown, no filling, all foam, no beer, all hammer, no nail, all icing, no cake, all lime and salt, no tequila, all mouth and no trousers, all mouth and trousers, all shot, no powder, all sizzle and no steak, all talk, all talk and no action, all wax and no wick
(Oxford English Dictionary)
N. Amer. colloq. (chiefly Polit.). to be all hat (and) no cattle: to have or cultivate an image or reputation which lacks substance or authenticity. Cf. to be all mouth and (no) trousers at mouth n. Phrases 1m.
1980 Washington Post 30 Mar. d8/2 His obsession with 10-gallon headpieces recalled the Texan who was ‘all hat and no cattle’.
1981 Globe & Mail (Toronto) 25 Apr. 9/1 One of the major raps against him was that he was all hat and no cattle. That is, he had a lot of style but not much substance.
1996 Oregonian (Nexis) 12 July b6 When it comes to politics, as they say in Texas, Perot is all hat, no cattle.
March 1944, Agricultural Leaders’ Digest, “The Editor’s Page,” pg. xiii:
An Indian’s definition of a tenderfoot on a dude ranch — “Big hat, no cattle” — Adv. Age.
28 June 1952, Albuquerque (NM) Times, pg. 4, col. 2:
“Big Hat, No Cattle”
Somehow this situation reminds us of the loud-talking ranchman who applied to a western banker for a loan. The banker asked a neighboring Indian if he regarded the rancher as a good credit risk. The chief pondered the question a moment, and replied:
“Big hat, no cattle.”
27 August 1961, Washington Post, pg. E1:
Rep. David T. Martin (R.-Neb.) reports another barbed one: How an Oklahoma Indian defines a New Frontiersman:
“Big hat—no cattle.”
Needless to say, this kind of irreverence is confined pretty much to the Republican corner.
8 July 1977, Chicago Tribune, pg. C1:
“The guy’s nothing but a nickel-and-dime politician. ... a Texan—big hat and no cattle.”
(Charles O. Finley, owner of baseball’s Oakland A’s—ed.)
Google News Archive
10 February 1980, Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review, “Willie: A hero for the weekend wranglers” by Chris Peck, pg. B1, col. 3:
They are the cowboys who are all hat and no cattle.
Television: The Houston Hurricane
Monday, Feb. 25, 1980
Dan Rather is a country boy in a hurry
Interviewing G.O.P. Presidential Contender George Bush last month on 60 Minutes, Rather remarked. “To use a Texas phrase, there are people who say that George Bush is a nice fellow but that he’s all hat and no cattle.” Translation: some people think that Bush has no constituency.
OCLC WorldCat record
Big hat, no cattle : managing human resources
Author: Wickham Skinner
Publisher: Boston : Harvard Business Review, 1981.
Series: Harvard business review reprint series, no. 81512.
Edition/Format: Book : English
I love that saying. We have a similar saying: “as flash as a rat with a gold tooth”.
Thanks for the definition.
It’s one of my favourite sayings. In Australia it’s usually Big Hat - No Cattle