get down to brass tacks

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Uncertain.[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. Yet another theory is that the phrase arose from the practice of adorning one’s gunstock with brass tacks, as was common in the early American West. Brass was frequently used because it could be easily polished and didn’t rust. According to author Stanley Vestal, “Brass tacks hammered into the stock of the rifle marked the tally of the mountain man’s victims. Brass tacks.”[2]


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get down to brass tacks (third-person singular simple present gets down to brass tacks, present participle getting down to brass tacks, simple past got down to brass tacks, past participle gotten down to brass tacks or got down to brass tacks)

  1. (idiomatic, chiefly US) to start to discuss or consider the most important details or facts about something.
    • 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.
    • 1925 July – 1926 May, A[rthur] Conan Doyle, “(please specify the chapter number)”, in The Land of Mist (eBook no. 0601351h.html), Australia: Project Gutenberg Australia, published April 2019:
      "But I called here with a purpose. I expect you are a busy man and I know that I am, so I'll get down to the brass tacks."
    • 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, Roger Avary, Pulp Fiction, spoken by The Wolf (Harvey Keitel):
      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?
    • 2023 April 2, Pippa Crerar, Robyn Vinter, quoting Lisa Nandy, “Suella Braverman denies Brexit to blame for Dover queues of 14 hours”, in The Guardian[1], →ISSN:
      And if the government got a grip, got down to brass tacks and started doing their actual job, all these things could be avoided.




  1. 1.0 1.1 brass tacks”,, Dave Wilton, Monday, May 26, 2008.
  2. ^ Stanley Vestal (1928) Kit Carson, The Happy Warrior of the Old West, A Biography, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, page 45