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etymology -- "bust a cap"

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by Kaylee, Dec 14, 2003.

  1. Kaylee

    Kaylee Moderator

    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?
  2. SDC

    SDC Well-Known Member

    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".
  3. Tamara

    Tamara Senior Member

    AFAIK, it was military slang long before it was gangsta argot. "Busting caps" or "popping caps" dates back to at least the Vietnam era...
  4. 45R

    45R Well-Known Member

    I thought that had to do with busting the caps off 6 packs :)
  5. Mal H

    Mal H Administrator

    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.
  6. Stevie-Ray

    Stevie-Ray Well-Known Member

    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.
  7. Kaylee

    Kaylee Moderator

    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?

  8. bobs1066

    bobs1066 Well-Known Member

    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.
  9. Zundfolge

    Zundfolge Well-Known Member

    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.
  10. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Well-Known Member

    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
  11. Kaylee

    Kaylee Moderator

    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...?


    bobs -- a reference to Hastings?
  12. cdbeaver

    cdbeaver Well-Known Member

    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."
  13. Walosi

    Walosi Well-Known Member

    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:
  14. minnesota oldie

    minnesota oldie Well-Known Member

    Bust a cap was widely used in the Army in 1962 when I joined, so that would make it pre vietnam.
  15. marley

    marley Well-Known Member

    Robert Duval uses it in True Grit. Thats the best I can do for you. Patrick
  16. TheBarracuda

    TheBarracuda New Member

    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"



    thanks for your time.

  17. Buck Snort

    Buck Snort Well-Known Member

    HA! Whoodathunkit?
  18. bozzman3

    bozzman3 Well-Known Member

    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!
  19. Zundfolge

    Zundfolge Well-Known Member

    Primers are often referred to as caps (in fact many early "cap guns" used primers).

    Looking at these types of caps, 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
  20. wrigh003

    wrigh003 Active Member

    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."

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