"Brass tacks" (1876) and etymological evidence

Victoria Neufeldt vneufeldt at MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM
Sun Aug 7 22:29:09 UTC 2005

'Brass tacks' has an "Americanism star" in Webster's New World, so I
suspect it's found in Mathews' Dict of Americanisms. (Mathews was a
consultant on the 2nd edition of the New World Dict, published in
1970, which introduced the star feature to identify words and senses
originating in the U.S.  Mathews joined the NW staff in 1955 as
special consulting editor and editor for Americanisms.)  I don't have
easy access to my copy of Mathews (it's packed in a box somewhere), so
can't check his citational evidence.  Maybe someone else can?

Incidentally, it is related to facts, as in "basic facts or details",
so a rhyming slang origin doesn't seem out of the question,
semantically speaking, even if it isn't used in contexts such as "Just
the brass tacks, ma'am" or Jonathan's example.


Victoria Neufeldt
727 9th Street East
Saskatoon, Sask.
S7H 0M6
Tel: 306-955-8910

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society
> [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
> Of Jonathon Green
> Sent: Sunday, August 07, 2005 11:37 AM
> Subject: Re: "Brass tacks" (1876) and etymological evidence
> >
> >"Cohen, Gerald Leonard" <gcohen at UMR.EDU> wrote:
> >---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> >Sender: American Dialect Society
> >Poster: "Cohen, Gerald Leonard"
> >Subject: Re: "Brass tacks" (1876) and etymological evidence
> >-----------------------------------------------------------
> --------------------
> >
> >Hmmm. Very interesting. "Brass tacks" is supposed to be
> rhyming slang for "facts"; hence "get down to brass tacks."
> But then why do the dictionaries say that this expression
> started in the U.S.? Why not in the speech of Cockneys?
> >
> >
> Not _all_ the dictionaries....
> Julian Franklyn 'Dict. Rhyming Slang' (1960) 44/1:  brass
> tacks [...] it
> is actually Cockney rhyming slang [...] Of 19 C. origin it
> had become
> naturalized in  America by 1903, many people believe it to have been
> imported here from America.
> That said, JF wouldn't presumably have known JL's 1895 cite and of
> course gives us no clue as to why he chooses '1903' for its
> transatlantic migration. Perhaps the OED's 1903 cite from
> the NY Sun?
> (except that this would not appear to have arrived until the 1972
> supplement)
> JG

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