[Ads-l] =?UTF-8?Q?=E2=80=9Cdown_to_the_brass=E2=80=9D=3B_?=Billy Birch, Burch; tacks

Dan Goncharoff thegonch at GMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 31 16:50:24 UTC 2020

I remember the earlier conversation about "brass" and its maritime context.
It makes me wonder if a reference to "brass tacks" is a way of talking
about spending more than necessary for a government project, with the
presumption that a politician or his cronies get the benefit.

On Thu, Dec 31, 2020 at 9:27 AM Peter Reitan <pjreitan at hotmail.com> wrote:

> 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.
> https://www.newspapers.com/clip/66393797/the-ouachita-telegraph/
> ________________________________
> 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;
>               tacks
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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=
> .=94
> 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?
> [1]
>  http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2015-April/136667.html
> [2] Since the URL did not copy properly, at
> https://catalog.hathitrust.org/
> search title =93Ethiopian Melodist=94
> Stephen Goranson
> http://people.duke.edu/~goranson/
> Stephen Goranson's Home Page - Duke University<
> http://people.duke.edu/~gora=
> nson/ <http://people.duke.edu/~gora=nson/>>
> 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"
> people.duke.edu
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list