[Ads-l] =?Windows-1252?Q?=93down_to_the_brass=94=3B_?=Billy Birch, Burch; tacks

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 31 09:27:32 EST 2020

Brass as money is consistent with some "brass tacks" usage in New Orleans from the period.

There are a number of late 1860s-early 1870s uses in New Orleans.  I had noticed them before, and could never quite decipher the intended imagery or meaning.

There are references to "Brass Tacks" politicians, and some "down to brass tacks" comments. Some, if I recall, related to contracts for public buildings.

Coincidentally, just yesterday, I was looking a "brass tacks" and ran across an example from 1871 that may shed some light on it.  It referred to a corupt politician asking whether there were any "brass tacks" contained in some spending bill. The context seemed to suggest that the "brass tacks" referred to money or expenditures that would benefit the politician.

From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
Sent: Thursday, December 31, 2020 5:58:30 AM
Subject: “down to the brass”; Billy Birch, Burch; tacks

---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster:       Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
Subject:      =?Windows-1252?Q?=93down_to_the_brass=94=3B_?=Billy Birch, Burch;

The three items in the subject may be related, though (a) is rarely conside=
red (given searching at some usual suspects, Peter=92s blog, etc.), (b) is =
obscure, and the (c) lacks consensus. Together, possibly, they may become a=
 bit clearer.
a) Previously on ads-l [1] I mentioned three uses of a phrase possibly rela=
ted to =93down to brass tacks,=94 and here I add an antedating:
1856 =93Suppose we come right down to the brass and admit=85.=94 Weekly Wis=
consin Patriot [Madison; AmHistN] Sept. 13, 1856, 1/3.
1858 =93=85we have talked all around the question, and he thought it was ti=
me to come right down to the brass.=94
1861 =93If Jo Bows came down to the brass of the matter, he would say, they=
 were more so.=94
1867 =93To come right down to the brass of the matter=85.=94
Now, all four of these texts in context, it can at least be argued, relate =
to money. So, maybe, though not yet certainly, brass here meant money.  In =
any case reference to the concrete not theoretical.
b) A 1862 book, Billy Birch=92s Ethiopian Melodist (NY) has a silly mocking=
 minstrel poem. The book is available in full [2], should anyone care to sa=
mple its texts in hope of clarifying the weird poem=92s setting. Billy Birc=
h is apparently (?) the stage name of William R. Garrison (1831-1897), but =
it is often also spelled =93Billy Burch.=94
On page 33=97I don=92t even want to type out the so-called =93Plantation So=
ng and Dance=94:
=93=85and den come down wid de brass tacks.=94
1862 (b) so far is earlier than item (c); and item (a) is so far also earli=
er than item (c).
But wait, there=92s more. In San Francisco Evening Bulletin of October 1, 1=
859 [AHN] 1/8 =93Billy Birch=92s Minstrels under the management of Billy Bi=
rch=94 offer a =93Budget of Comicalities,=94 one of which is =93Brass Tacks=
c) 1863, as far as I know, is the earliest cited (reportedly by Fred Shapir=
o, though the archive search seems hit or miss) of many uses of =93come dow=
n to the brass tacks=92 (and variants).
Among the remaining questions: why did some in effect apologize for using w=
hat they considered a low register phrase? And did Billy Birch/Burch presen=
t his act in Texas?
[2] Since the URL did not copy properly, at https://catalog.hathitrust.org/
search title =93Ethiopian Melodist=94
Stephen Goranson
Stephen Goranson's Home Page - Duke University<http://people.duke.edu/~gora=
Stephen Goranson. goranson "at" duke "dot" edu. Jannaeus.pdf. My paper on t=
he history of Alexander Jannaeus as the Qumran- and Essene-view "Wicked Pri=
est" and Judah the Essene as the "Teacher of Righteousness" (3 August 2005 =
[revised 12 January 2006]; 34 pages), "Jannaeus, His Brother Absalom, and J=
udah the Essene ". Dura-Europos.pdf "7 vs. 8: The Battle Over the Holy Day =
at Dura-Europos"

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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