"Brass tacks" (1876) and etymological evidence

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Aug 8 17:30:02 UTC 2005

I thought it was Cockney Rhyming Slang for "junkie."  Junkies are frequently homeless and at the mercy of the elements.

Another theory is that it's CRS for "donkey."  In northern latitudes, donkeys are frequently forced to work in inclement winter conditions, much to their disadvantage.

A similar possibility is "flunky." At any rate, we may be assured that whichever of these candidate sources is the real truth, the "brass monkey" expression arose in either the north of
Britain or in New England, whose savage winters were immortalized in Emerson's celebrated poem, "The Snow Storm."


Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Laurence Horn
Subject: Re: "Brass tacks" (1876) and etymological evidence

At 2:49 AM -0400 8/8/05, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>On Mon, 8 Aug 2005 01:53:57 -0400, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>>My copy of Mathews shows "_To get down to brass tacks, nails_, to get down
>>to fundamentals". With "tacks" from 1903, with "nails" from 1911.
>And I suppose "brass nails" is rhyming slang for "details"!

There's also "brass monkey", as in "cold enough to freeze the balls
of a ___", which is of course rhyming slang for "hunky".


>Here's a 1902 cite:
>1902 _Chicago Tribune_ 21 Dec. 7/1 "When it gets down to brass nails,"
>said Secretary Shaw, "we know that the secretary will redeem all money in
>gold, but the business men of Europe have no assurance of that."
>--Ben Zimmer

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