Go for the brass ring

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Wed Apr 7 23:24:07 UTC 2004

>One of my subscribers has asked a simple question that has stumped my
>reference books: "When people go for the brass ring, what exactly are
>they going for? Why is a brass ring a symbol of success?" None of my
>books even mentions the expression. Can anyone help with pointers
>towards its origin or how old it is? (The earliest example on
>newspaperarchive.com is dated March 1966.)

"Brass ring" in the approprate sense appears in MW3 (= "a prize or rich
opportunity") ("slang").

For some reason I don't see it in my slang dictionaries.

In this metaphoric sense I see it several times in the 1930's at N'archive.
Pre-1930 items appear to refer to literal brass rings, including those
grabbed on the merry-go-round.

The on-line "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" shows a couple of mentions of the brass
ring at the merry-go-round in 1899: search with <<"brass ring" merry-go-round>>

-- Doug Wilson

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