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To set one's cap

Posted by R. Berg on November 13, 2005

In Reply to: To set one's cap posted by Tim Nolan on November 13, 2005

: How old is the expression "to set one's cap" and where did it originate? This subject came up on a Trollope list recently and we had several theories. It is used to mean deciding to "catch" a particular person for matrimony.

The first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary has a use in Goldsmith's "She Stoops to Conquer," 1773, as the earliest example. It doesn't explain the origin. By the OED's definition, the phrase is used only of women; men don't set their caps.

The OED gives another meaning, older and also colloquial: to "have one's cap set" means to be drunk.