"Brass tacks" (1876) and etymological evidence

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Aug 8 18:48:05 UTC 2005

Getting someone to sit on a tack was still a source of sadistic humor in my own boyhood, which was, to coin a phrase, "recent by linguistic standards," i.e. *not* in the EModE period.  In my own experience, however, "brass" tacks were not specified.

If this jest could be pushed back a few years, and shone to have had a wide circulation, it might well have had some bearing on the creation of the "brass tacks" metaphor.  As it is, the anecdotal connection of "brass tacks" with sitting "down" to a painful sensation may have helped the odd metaphor gain currency, whatever its ultimate origin.

Michael McKernan <mckernan at LOCALNET.COM> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Michael McKernan
Subject: Re: "Brass tacks" (1876) and etymological evidence

Found this curious 'brass tacks' item, which seems to have some possibility
(however faint) of being connected to the 'down to brass tacks' usage. If
so, it would add a somewhat different dimension to the concept of 'getting
down to'.

Arkansas City Traveler, November 16, 1881.

The young man who came into our office the other evening, sat down in a
chair, and then bounced up with a yell and fled like one
bewitched, is requested to return four long brass tacks that were on the
chair when he took his seat. No questions will be asked we
understand it all; but we want those tacks we have use for them in our
business. That chair is especially devoted to boys who not only read
our exchanges, but make our office a regular loafing place, and the tacks
are what we depend upon for excitement. Courant.

Michael McKernan

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