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To “catch the vapors” means to get wrapped up in someone else's hype. Thinking you are more popular or glamorous by association, expecting favors, money or connections just because you knew them before they were famous.

Biz Markie’s song (Or Snoop Dogg's cover) Vapors explains it rather well with the following verse

So in school on Nobel Street, I say "Can I be down, champ"
They said no and treated me like a wet food stamp

Follwed by:

But now things switched without belief
"Yo, Biz, do you remember me from Nober Street, chief?
We used to be down back in the days"
It happens all the time and never ceases to amaze

Another note. When European countries criticized the United States regarding the “decreased role for the European allies” in the war on the “axis of evil” and conquest of Iraq. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell dismissed them as to having “caught the vapors”

So if you get really famous and successful and people who wouldn’t give you time of day are now your best friend… well, they caught the vapors.

Cause the Kane got more spice than curry
I am the flavor down on paper
And nothing could save ya, from catchin the vapors

Catchin' the vapors at urban dictionary.com draws from the meaning of the phrase as to struggle or contend against someone competitively and as Snoop's lyrics suggests he too is successful in his lifestyle when compared to his contemporaries. As enwhysea explains, it was Snoop Doggy Dogg who covered Vapors for his 1997 album, and it is Biz Markie's fondness for unforgettable catchphrases and witty rhymes that's too big to overlook. The spark of this inspiration was set off by Big Daddy Kane the highly respected lyricist of the Juice Crew who composed a number of Biz's major hits near the beginning of his career such as Biz is Goin' Off. Another stand out track by Kane is Vapors, initially released in 1988, contains his hip hop I told-you-so lyrics about the price of fame. If Kane had rapped them himself, relates one expert, they would have flopped. “In fact,” says Steve 'Flash' Juon of RapReviews.com, “in the latter case it would have been extremely strange, since Biz raps ABOUT Kane being jocked by all the people who wanted nothing to do with him as a child.”

As the violent content of rap music grew through the 90's, the mainstream popularity and financial wealth of rappers ballooned. Along with their growing fortunes rap artists eventually reached a fork in the road of fame where their lyrics lost their roots in the man on the street and the rapper’s credibility began to fade. Perhaps this explains why Vapors has earned its birthright as a classic in the rap world today. Since it’s release the song has been a favorite choice for compilation albums and sampled by new rappers for hundreds of records while it continues to be referred to in rhymes by even more.

Fainting Couches and Corsets

You might be interested to know that getting or catching the vapors is also a southernism dating back to before the advent of bloomers to the days when women wore the Victorian styled corset as part of the socially required dress. We know today than any kind of strenuous activities or excitement increases the body’s need for oxygen. Many times the fashionably conscience southern belle had her corset tied so tightly that not enough oxygen could enter the lungs. As a result any exhilaration could result in a fainting spell or small gasps for air hence catching vapors. Soon fainting rooms were built and cabinet makers were employed to create fainting couches for them to fade away gracefully on thus raising swooning lessons to an art form.

When they said you was high classed,
Well, that was just a lie.

The moment Elvis Presley suddenly began swiveling his hips and singing ‘Hound Dog’ women were catching vapors once again from all that girly screamin'. Do it long enough the body eventually faints so that normal breathing may resume and the oxygen deprived brain can regain consciousness.

In its earliest incantations vapors in the plural form was used during the first half of the 14th century to describe exhalations of bodily organs. It was thought to affect the physical or mental conditions of a person’s health diagnosed as hysteria, depression or melancholy. Vapor comes from the Anglo-French word vapour which borrowed it from the Latin vaporem meaning "exhalation, steam, and or heat." The Oxford English Dictionary gives an interesting quotation with the archaic use :

    "In older medical use: Exhalations supposed to be developed within the organs of the body (esp. the stomach) and to have an injurious effect upon the health." Earliest reference: 1422. "That the wapours gonne wp into the hede in tyme of slepynge may haue issue."

It wasn’t until two hundred years later around 1662 that vapors took on its meaning as a "fit of fainting or hysteria" coming from the medieval belief of "exhalations" from the stomach or other organs that affected the brain. These "vapours" arose from an unwholesome state of the body and were said to rise into the head causing the hysterical nervous state. The peak of the common use of the term occurred between 1665 and1750 when vapours were considered a morbid condition. By 1719 Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe wrote in his journal as the distaught sole survivor of a sea expedition:

The feminization of politics

Finally as enwhysea notes it was the New York Times citing the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell dismissing his European counterparts as having "caught the vapors.” While Powell could be advocating that these countries are challenging the United States gung ho measures against Saddam Hussein he's really hinting around that they're overreacting to the situation. This connotation most likely comes from the everyday usage that made its way into specialized literature from a disorder already well known to the English of the "vapors" between the 1750s and 1780s.

At the end of the 18th century, 'nerve doctors' had a booming business across Europe. In 1763, one such physician, Pierre Pomme, who had been general practitioner to the French king Louis XV, claimed to have discovered the condition of 'vapours' and popularized the notion in France when he illustrated "vapours," as
“These nervous vapors, arising as they did from the uterus, could "derange all functions of the brain."
Other researchers of the era emphasized the discussion of hysteria in Enlightenment France saying that the gendering of hysteria was combined from a bigger physiological and medical understanding , as rumor has it, became stuck high and dry in the pathological category of their new perceptions of the physical and moral foundations of the sexes.


Biz Markie :: Greatest Hits :: LandSpeed Records:

Christgau, Robert. Adventures in Information Capitalism Village Voice, Jan. 21, 1992.

Drifting clouds of etymology:
www.raycomm.com/techwhirl/archives/ 9505/techwhirl-9505-00107.html

Edward Shorter, "A History of Psychiatry; From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac," 1997.

Hound Dog Lyrics:

Online Etymology Dictionary:

UrbanDictionary.com/catch the vapors:
www.urbandictionary.com/ define.php?term=catch+the+vapors

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