Tipping your hat is a phenomenon that has lasted about a hundred years. It was a common way to greet people on the street. You would tip your hat as a sign of respect or acknowledgment. It was the kind of greeting you would give when you wanted to acknowledge someone’s presence, but either you or he did not actually have time to stop and chat. We haven’t had a form of greeting like this since the 60s. We have had street greetings mind you, but nothing where an accessory or inanimate object was used to show greeting or respect. However, I think now in the 21st Century, we may have started a new one.
I was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean listening to my iPod. Then, I walked by somebody I vaguely recognized as somebody I had seen on the cruise ship several times. I instinctively took out my left earphone as an acknowledgement. I thought about this bizarre reflex for a while after that. I noticed that it really was a reflex. I did it to multiple people on the streets here at home and elsewhere for the same reason or lack of a reason. I even found myself doing it to our very own Twitchdoctor. I was acknowledging them. I kept thinking about this and found that other people seemed to do it occasionally too. You take out an earphone for a couple of seconds to acknowledge someone. This does not seem so far removed to me from taking off your hat for a few seconds. Interestingly, though there are some cultural differences between tipping your hat and taking out an earphone.
There’s a certain amount of elitism or classism that went with tipping your hat. Tipping your hat was a “gentlemen’s gesture”. What do you think of when you hear the phrase “tipping your hat”? You probably think of an old, fat, white man in a suit with a top hat and cane acknowledging a similarly profiled man as he walks by. Earphones in contrast are somewhat less class based. Old, young. Rich, middle-class. Black, White, or any other ethnicity. These are distinctions that do not seem to actually determine who is wearing earphones and earphones do not help one make these distinctions either. However, tipping your hat was something that was done in groups just as easily as by oneself. People have a tendency not to wear earphones in groups because it’s considered impolite and because it implies you are not listening because earphones are used to play music. This limits the scope of this gesture, but the gesture’s existence is still an interesting phenomenon.
I will admit that I could be wrong about this. It may not be as common as I think, but it is a nice thought. I find it telling that while hat tipping itself has died as a practice it has survived in other contexts. Hat tipping is commonly abbreviated as “HT” in online forums and comments as acknowledgment of support for a statement or idea.