get down to brass tacks

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Unknown.[1] Earliest attestation in 1863 US, specifically Texas.[1] One theory is that it comes from the brass tacks in the counter of a hardware store or draper’s shop used to measure cloth in precise units (rather than holding one end to the nose and stretching out the arm to approximately one yard). Another possibility is the 19th-century American practice of using brass tacks to spell out the initials of the deceased on the top of their coffin. Alternatively, it may come from Cockney rhyming slang to mean "getting down to the facts."


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get down to brass tacks

  1. (idiomatic, chiefly US) Deal with the important details.


1863 1935 1972 1994
ME « 15th c. 16th c. 17th c. 18th c. 19th c. 20th c. 21st c.
  • 1863, January 21, 1863, The Tri-Weekly Telegraph, newspaper of Houston, Texas
    When you come down to brass tacks – if we may be allowed the expression – everybody is governed by selfishness.
  • 1935, Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty
    That's no answer. Get down to brass tacks.
  • 1972, Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
    Let's get down to brass tacks here. How much for the ape?
  • 1979, Stephen King, The Dead Zone
    We're gonna stop playing games with these Arabs and get down to brass tacks!
  • 1994, Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary, Pulp Fiction
    You must be Jules, which would make you Vincent. Let's get down to brass tacks, gentlemen. If I was informed correctly, the clock is ticking. Is that right, Jimmie?




  1. 1.0 1.1 brass tacks”,, Dave Wilton, Monday, May 26, 2008.