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In Barry Manilow's version of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" what does "snap your caps" mean?

Is it Elton? Is it Billy? Is it Sting perhaps?

Oh you’ll never ever get it, don’t snap your caps.

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2 Answers 2

The phrase appears to date back to at least to 1940s America.

Take-off: American all-girl bands during World War Two by Tonya Bolden (2007):

SNAP YOUR CAP: Lose your cool.

The book of Negro folklore by Langston Hughes and Arna Wendell Bontemps (1958):

SNAP YOUR CAP : To become very angry. The dozens made him snap his cap.

American speech, Volume 20 (1945):

SNAP YOUR CAP. Become excited, flustered.

Finally, here it is in a 1977 poem by Maureen Owen:

      Don't crack up    Go koo koo    off the rocks
      get soaked     Don't loose your marbles      Twitch
      your tea     Be harried    License revoked.   Don't
      hold your breath    Lose precious sleep.    Snap 
      your cap    Pop your buttons    Blow a fuse    Short out!  
      Don't go under    Freak off the scene    Drown your hopes 
      & Pout    Don't let this old world get you down 
      and others get your goat    Don't sink your ship 
      Snap your cookie      Up a tree    Not wrapped too tight 
      they'll say.   Don't come unglued    Be in a stew
      Let a screw    come undone    Get sapped.   Don't go turkey
      Bees in your bonnet   Cook your goose      Have bats
      in your belfry    & worse    Don't go out of your gourd
      Loose your cool   Let it throw you     Be bowled over
      Come unstrung      Don't go batty    End up dotty
      weeping doorsteps midnight phone calls Friends who
      wish you'd sit up straight!
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1  
This identifies it as WWII slang, and this list of jazz slang terms says it's the same as "blow your top". That makes sense to me: cap and top equivalent to head/reason, and snap as a rhyming term for break. –  StoneyB Sep 19 '12 at 21:29

The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang

snap your cap - to lose your sanity US, 1973

Purely speculating, perhaps it draws on snapback cap - a snap back hat is a baseball cap style hat where size of the hat is adjustable by a snap on the back. Also don't get your knickers in a twist, and (admittedly rarer) don't snap your knicker elastic

You can assume from Manilow's (hitherto virtually unknown) pluralising of caps that it's not a common expression.

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I think the snapback cap arrived on the scene long after 1973. This suggests at least the 1980s. –  bib Sep 20 '12 at 0:21
    
@bib: It's highly unlikely anyone will come up with a "first use" on this one, which I suspect is primarily just a meaningless alliteration. I'm just suggesting reasons why it's clinging to life. According to Google, about 1/5th of all instances on the Net today reflect Manilow's totally non-standard pluralisation, so it obviously didn't have much currency before. OP asked what it means, which can be answered - not where it came from, which probably can't. –  FumbleFingers Sep 20 '12 at 0:39
    
Probably just my knee-jerk dislike of the snapback cap prompting me to act out. For some reason, plastic will never be a fashion statement for me. –  bib Sep 20 '12 at 1:12
    
@bib: Until I Googled snap your cap answering this question, I'd never heard the term snapback cap. But it's obviously familiar to many people, so it's at least possible the alliteration has helped revive/keep alive OP's expression. –  FumbleFingers Sep 20 '12 at 1:17
    
I expect you are correct: lose your sanity, but what came immediately to mind for me was the old roll caps we used in our toy guns: shelburnecountrystore.com/product_images/c/… –  Jim Sep 20 '12 at 4:45

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