Why Do We Say, “Let’s Put On Our Thinking Caps”?

Jerry Anderson   December 13, 2015   Comments Off on Why Do We Say, “Let’s Put On Our Thinking Caps”?

My family and I were sitting at the dinner table when my daughter said something concerning the phrase “…let’s put on our thinking caps…” I have heard that phrase used innumerable times in my career as a teacher and supervisor, so I asked aloud, “Was there ever a time when people actually put on a cap because they believed it made them think better?” So, I just had to find out and report back to them.  One of the sources I went to was Robert Hendrickson’s book Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins.

The phrase first was recorded in the 1600s as “put on your considering cap,” which was a way of saying that one should take some time to think something over before making a decision or coming to a conclusion. At this time, the 1600s, most people were uneducated and, generally speaking, admired and respected those who had the advantage of a formal education. Some of the most highly regarded professional, educated people at the time were clergymen, scholars and jurists (lawyers). Each of these professions were thought to be composed of thoughtful, deep-thinking men. Coincidentally, they each wore “…square-cut, tight-fitting caps…” (Hendrickson).

Martin Luther, a leader of the Reformation, wore a cap that, to the masses of people, indicated a deep-thinking, thoughtful and intelligent man.

It is suggested that common, uneducated people thought these caps actually helped these men think more deeply, clearly and correctly. So, the wearing of a cap became associated with the ability to ponder and think effectively. Hendrickson ends his entry about this phrase by saying, “But ‘considering cap’ is most likely a reference to the fact that English judges once put on their caps before passing sentences in ALL (my emphasis) cases, just as they still do before passing the death sentence.”

Modern student.

NOTE: THE BEST EXAMPLE OF A CHARACTER IN NEED OF A “THINKING CAP” WAS THE SCARECROW IN THE FILM “THE WIZARD OF OZ.” HE GOES TO OZ TO GET A BRAIN. HERE IS THE SCENE IN WHICH THE SCARECROW SINGS ABOUT HIS LONGING TO BE ABLE TO THINK AND REASON:
 
WE ALL HAVE A BRAIN AND WE DON’T NEED A 
“THINKING CAP” TO MAKE THEM WORK MORE
EFFICIENTLY. BUT PEOPLE STILL WEAR CAPS AS A FASHION STATEMENT.
Rapper Tupac Shakur with a backwards baseball cap.
President Obama wearing a baseball cap with brim to the back.

President Obama wearing a baseball cap with brim to the back.

 The first time that brimmed hats were worn backwards was not in the recent past but beginning in the 1890s when a brimmed hat, goggles and a “duster” ( a light overcoat that covered your regular clothing to keep them from getting dirty from road dust) were part of the informal uniform of automobile drivers The first automobiles did not have tops. Those did not come until later. So when a driver and passengers were traveling along a road their heads (and caps) were exposed to the wind that very often blew the caps off their heads. To solve this problem, drivers, and some passengers, started to turn their caps around backwards on their head to prevent the wind from catching them (via the brims) and blowing them off. Thus, what generations later was thought of as “cool” and “stylish” had already been done nearly a century earlier.

Driver from circa 1900. Please note the brim of his hat is turned around and shows just below his ear.

Driver from circa 1900. Please note the brim of his hat is turned around and shows just below his ear.

 Done for now.