"Brass tacks" (1876) and etymological evidence

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Aug 7 22:47:32 UTC 2005

>Richard Lederer in _A Man Of My Words_ claims that "get the brass tacks"
>actually exists in Cockney rhyming slang:
>In _Be sure to get the brass tacks_, _tacks_ stands for facts, leading
>some word sleuths to deduce cockney as the source of the cliche "Let's get
>down to brass tacks."
>I've never seen any attestations for "get the brass tacks", however.

I didn't find any, but I only looked at 19th century stuff.

>So how did the rhyming-slang explanation first come about? One possible
>contributing factor is that "brass tacks" has occasionally been paired
>with "cold/hard facts": ....

Could be.

Partridge is one of the 'usual suspects' in these matters and I suspect
that others have followed him. After noting first citation in US, 1903, he
says (DSUE, 8th ed.): <<I suspect, however, that *brass tacks* may have
arisen before C.20 and be rhyming s. for _facts_>>. I suppose that he
presented this wag in earlier editions too. He does not include an entry
for "brass tacks" without "down to ...", nor does he give any version of
"facts" as a meaning of "brass tacks".

Of course, the rhyming-slang explanation might still be true ... but I
can't find any evidence for it so far.

-- Doug Wilson

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