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Fun Fact Tuesday March 10, 2020

10 March 2020


Let’s get down to brass tacks.  That’s TACKS, not TAX.  The phrase is an Americanism dating from the 19th century.  The phrase’s exact origin is not known, although there are a few theories. One is that the expression is inspired by the centrality and use of actual brass tacks in furniture and upholstery.  It may be because brass tacks is simply a bit of rhyming wordplay derived from facts. Facts tacks.  It may also allude to tacks hammered into a sales counter, in particular a shop that sold sewing material, to indicate precise measuring points, as is shown by this passage from Ernest Ingersoll’s story The Metropolis of the Rocky Mountains, 1880: “I hurried over to Seabright’s. There was a little square counter, heaped with calicoes and other gear, except a small space clear for measuring, with the yards tacked off with brass tacks.”  Or it could refer to the nails used in a coffin, in most cases brass.  Some suggest it has military beginnings, but not as brass but tin tacks.  In any case, the phrase was widespread in its modern sense by the early 20th century.  So, to get down to brass tacks, no matter the origin, the phrase means the same.  It means getting to the essential or basic facts of the situation.