etymology -- "bust a cap"


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Kaylee
December 14, 2003, 04:01 PM
I've only ever heard this phrase in the modern "gangster" movie setting, but it would seem from the structure to have originated in the percussion lock era.. perhaps as late as cap-and-ball revolvers. I mean, how many gangbangers get into the details of projectile, case, powder, primer, etc...

Anyone have more details on the origin/history of the phrase?

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SDC
December 14, 2003, 04:17 PM
Though "cap" does have a legitimate firearms usage as a "percussion cap", I doubt any of the gangsta wannabes have any idea of that history; they probably came up with it while thinking of "cap guns".

Tamara
December 14, 2003, 04:22 PM
AFAIK, it was military slang long before it was gangsta argot. "Busting caps" or "popping caps" dates back to at least the Vietnam era...

45R
December 14, 2003, 04:27 PM
I thought that had to do with busting the caps off 6 packs :)

Mal H
December 14, 2003, 04:28 PM
I can't remember where or when I heard this, but there was a gangster (as opposed to gansta) movie where the boss tells one of his henchmen to "cap him". The gangster then shoots the victim in the kneecap (ouch!). I wonder if that has anything to do with the current usage, but we are so attuned to firearms, we try to put an ammo slant to it with primers/caps. The kneecap angle makes a little more sense when used with the word "bust" as in "bust a cap" since the "cap" in that case is, indeed, busted, but a primer is never busted.

Stevie-Ray
December 14, 2003, 04:30 PM
Bustin' or poppin' caps did indeed come from the Vietnam era. As far as "I'm gonna bust a cap in yo azz," though, was our youth taking moronic license, as usual.

Kaylee
December 14, 2003, 04:39 PM
Hrmm -- do we have any evidence of it being in military usage prior to VietNam then? It does sound like a perfect description of a percussion cap splitting somewhat as it's set off on the nipple by a hammer.

Could it have originated in the 1850's-1860's era military, and been passed down there long after the advent of cartridge firearms, then passed into civilian use from Vets?

-K

bobs1066
December 14, 2003, 04:41 PM
I remember reading an interview with Frank Hamer that was done shortly after he had run Bonnie & Clyde to earth. He said that he "hated to bust a cap on a woman", IIRC. That was from 1934.

Zundfolge
December 14, 2003, 04:43 PM
My understanding is the term originated in the Viet Nam era.

I always assumed that since most Viet Nam soldiers grew up shooting cap guns so thats where the slang term came from ... then some kids in the hood picked it up from '70s era gang bangers (their older brothers, uncles and fathers) who served in the military douring Viet Nam.

Vern Humphrey
December 14, 2003, 04:52 PM
It certainly dates back to the Civil War -- I recall seeing it in print in such books as "Gone for a Soldier" -- a memoir originally handwritten and only discovered and printed more than a century later.

Many gun-related terms are in common use, by people who have no idea what they really mean, for example --

"Lock, stock and barrel" -- meaning not the stock of a store, but the three parts of a gun.

"Going off half-cocked" -- meaning not "doing something without thought or preparation," but "doing something dangerous when thought safe."

"Sure as shootin'" -- meaning, "You'll never have to deal with HIM again.":D

Kaylee
December 14, 2003, 04:55 PM
hey -- another possibility.. wasn't VietNam fought largely by guys who grew up on Westerns in the 50's era? Could the term have been picked up from holdover frontier slang in the 30's, as bobs1066 suggessted with the B&C quote, inserted into a Western in the 50's, then popularized in VN, etc...?

-K


bobs -- a reference to Hastings?

cdbeaver
December 14, 2003, 05:31 PM
I know for certain that the phrase was used in Korea. GI's on the MLR or returning from patrols spoke of "bustin' caps," or "popping primers."

Walosi
December 14, 2003, 05:50 PM
I first remember the term being used by my dad and his brothers when I was first invited along on their shooting practice at age five. That was 65 years ago, and they said it began with percussion fired weapons - "bust a cap" moving up to replace "make sparks". Some shooting terms might be traced, as colloquial lingo, to a certain locale, but this one apparently grew so fast that its origin will never be known. Growing up, from elementary through high school, we lived in AZ, TX, NM, CA and OK. It was a common term around guns all that time, and AT LEAST over that area. That's just from old family lore, so don't get fouled and bust a cap on me over it :rolleyes:

minnesota oldie
December 14, 2003, 06:12 PM
Bust a cap was widely used in the Army in 1962 when I joined, so that would make it pre vietnam.

marley
December 14, 2003, 06:41 PM
Robert Duval uses it in True Grit. Thats the best I can do for you. Patrick

TheBarracuda
January 9, 2011, 02:11 PM
I know this is an old post but I just watched the original True Grit (watching the new one later today) and heard the phrase "busted a cap" It just so happened that earlier I was playing around with Google labs and found a search engine that looks for phrases used in books dating back to 1800's or earlier.

Anyway, It says it was first used at around 1840 or 1880 depending on the "smoothing"

http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=bust+a+cap&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3

http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=bust+a+cap&year_start=1800&year_end=2011&corpus=0&smoothing=50

thanks for your time.

-Chad

Buck Snort
January 9, 2011, 05:22 PM
HA! Whoodathunkit?

bozzman3
January 9, 2011, 05:33 PM
Was watching True Grit yesterday night and they said it!My 2 boys 17 and 15 were watching it with me.I said do you know who that big guy is in the movie? (refrencing the Duke) They said no, then my older says Client Eastwood?I think a tear fell out of my eye!

Zundfolge
January 10, 2011, 01:03 PM
Primers are often referred to as caps (in fact many early "cap guns" used primers).

Looking at these types of caps (http://wildwesttoys.com/db1/00001/wildwesttoys.com/_uimages/capsforwebsite2.JPG), they look a lot like primers.

Robert Johnson made several references to "caps" in his songs recorded in the 30s (many of which were delta blues standards from just after the turn of the century).

Note this verse from ".32-20 Blues"
She got a .38 special but I believe it's most too light
She got a .38 special but I believe it's most too light
I got a 32-20, got to make the caps alright

wrigh003
January 10, 2011, 01:21 PM
I was reading "True Grit" yesterday, and noted the phrase- original copyright there was in 1968, however the usage of it made me think "percussion cap."

Vern Humphrey
January 10, 2011, 01:27 PM
I was reading "True Grit" yesterday, and noted the phrase- original copyright there was in 1968, however the usage of it made me think "percussion cap."
That's exactly the origin of the phrase -- "bust a percussion cap."

If you shoot muzzle loaders, you note the cap fits tightly on the nipple. It's designed to "bust" or split on firing, so you can get it off quickly when reloading.

semperfi63
January 10, 2011, 01:29 PM
funny you should bring this topic up. Just this weekend I watched the original True Grit (with the Duke) and noticed at one point the Bad Guy played by Robert Duval used the phrase "bust a cap"

Ala Dan
January 10, 2011, 04:15 PM
We currently have one member here that goes by the handle "Capbuster"~! ;)

isacamary
January 10, 2011, 04:41 PM
I thought this was interesting, so I figured I would do my first post. I've been lurking here for the past year.
There are a lot of words/phrases used by "gangstas" today that can be traced back to at least the old west - probably even farther than that.
"Mac Daddy" was a pimp back in the 1870's - today "gangstas" use it as a compliment. A "crib" was a prostitute’s room, today it's a general term for someone's living quarters. "Bust a cap" goes back to the 1830's. I read a book entitled "The Prairie Traveler" which was written about that time - and the term was used in it (if I recall correctly)

USAF_Vet
January 10, 2011, 04:53 PM
Wow, how many of us watched the Duke marathon on AMC this past weekend? I am not alone in that I also watched the original True Grit the other day. The wife looked at me and said "wow, he (refering to John Wayne) can't act." I was also surprised to see Dennis Hopper was in the film, I hadn't realized that before. He played "Moon" the guy who was stabbed in the guts, for those who didn't know.

JohnBT
January 10, 2011, 06:24 PM
Primers, caps, same thing to a lot of people

www.sellier-bellot.cz/ammo-components-primers.php

Look at the first chart, the one titled CAPS. It's for centerfire pistol and rifle primers.

It's just what they're called some places. Heck, look at the menu on the left side of the linked page. Item seven is Centerfire Caps.

I suppose there are more examples out there.

JohnBT
January 10, 2011, 06:30 PM
"www.enterprisenews.com/news/cops_and_courts/x338105745/Ammunition-primer-caps-are-uncommon-but-legal-to-transport-in-checked-baggage"

TSA says primer caps are okay if in the original packaging.

The gun store owner had this to say:

"He said modern semi-automatic weapons require highly calibrated bullets that make it impractical to reload bullets, but it’s still done with shotguns and less so with pistols."

:what:

69Falcon
January 10, 2011, 11:02 PM
"www.enterprisenews.com/news/cops_and_courts/x338105745/Ammunition-primer-caps-are-uncommon-but-legal-to-transport-in-checked-baggage"

TSA says primer caps are okay if in the original packaging.

The gun store owner had this to say:

"He said modern semi-automatic weapons require highly calibrated bullets that make it impractical to reload bullets, but itís still done with shotguns and less so with pistols."

Wow, that guy sounds like he knows his stuff. I never knew about these extreme "calibrations". Funny, because my handloads are better than the factory rounds I've bought. More consistent crimp, C.O.L., etc. Good results on the range, too! :confused:

Hatterasguy
January 10, 2011, 11:05 PM
It does sound plausible that it could have originated in the mid 19th century, interesting.

jbkebert
January 10, 2011, 11:19 PM
The term busting a cap was refered to in the book " The Rifle and the Hound of Ceylon" written in 1854 by S. W. Baker. Samuel Baker a Victorian era hunter from London. Refering to the dread when his front stuffer failed to fire the charge merley busting a cap.

A few pages about some of this guys exploites were also noted by Peter Capstick in the book "Death in the Silent places"

So my most educated guess would be somewhere shortly after the Percussion cap rifle was introduced.

Vern Humphrey
January 10, 2011, 11:26 PM
He said modern semi-automatic weapons require highly calibrated bullets that make it impractical to reload bullets, but it’s still done with shotguns and less so with pistols
Well, it is impractical to reload bullets -- they're usually all smashed up after firing.

On the other hand, if you have new bullets, powder and primers, it's quite easy to reload cartridge cases.

Vern Humphrey
January 10, 2011, 11:28 PM
I read a book entitled "The Prairie Traveler" which was written about that time - and the term was used in it (if I recall correctly)
Written by Captain Randolph Marcy. One of the best books of that era on the subject of traveling and surviving beyond the frontier.

Tomcat47
January 10, 2011, 11:33 PM
Goes right along with birdman gun sites! LOL :neener:

wrs840
January 10, 2011, 11:38 PM
When I tell my wife "I'm gonna crossa skreet an' bussa cap" she knows I'm heading south of the old ridge-road-cut and into the woods to do some target shooting. After 30+ years together, she understands almost any gibberish I utter.

Les

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