This is the full read-only archive of the "Ask the Wordwizard" section of the original Wordwizard site. The responses to the questions originate from Jonathon Green, the compiler of the Cassell Dictionary of Slang and numerous other dictionaries.
In a discussion the other night someone said that the expression
"get down to brass tacks" comes from two brass tacks in a counter
used to measure a length of cloth. I thought it sounded like a Cockney rhyming of "get to the facts".What is the correct answer?
Submitted by Robert Degerberg (Gladwyne - Germany)
Signature: Topic imported and archived
If slang lexicograopher Eric Partridge is correct, then so too is the suggestion that brass tacks is indeed rhyming slang for 'facts'. Anyway, that is his view as well as yours. It is first cited in 1897, as a US coinage meaning 'to concern oneself with basic facts or realities' (there is a further US variation 'brass nails'). Partridge is supported by rhyming slang expert Julian Franklyn, who claims that the phrase started life in London's Cockney East End, as does nearly all rhy. sl., and thence emigrated to the US before returning by 1910 to the UK.
Signature: Jonathon Green
Jonathon Green wrote: ↑Sun Jun 09, 1996 7:00 am
If slang lexicograopher Eric Partridge is correct, then so too is the suggestion that brass tacks is indeed rhyming slang for 'facts'.
Let us not forget:
On the first day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.