VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.
expression today is "getting down to brass tacks." It means to get serious about something, to get to the bottom of
the situation. For example, a man may
say, " I want to work for you. But how
much will you pay me? He is getting
down to brass tacks. Or a woman may
ask, "You say you love me. Will you
marry me?" She, too, is getting down to
this expression get started? There are
time most women made their own clothes, buying the cloth in small stores. The material was kept in large rolls. And the storekeeper cut off as much as a
woman wanted. Brass tacks along his
work table helped him measure the exact amount.
a busy storekeeper might try to guess how much material to cut off. But this would not be correct. He could get an exact measure only by laying
the material down along the brass tacks.
expert, however, has another theory. He
believes the expression came from seamen who cleaned the bottoms of boats. Strong heavy devices called bolts held the
ship's bottom together. These bolts
were made of copper. The seaman had to
clean the ship down to the copper bolts.
American speech soon changed the words copper bolts into brass tacks.
idea is that the expression began when furniture was made by hand. Brass tacks were used around the bottom part
of the chair. The brass tacks, showed
that the chair was built to be strong.
When something went wrong with the chair, someone quickly examined the
bottom to discover the trouble. In
other words, someone got down to the brass tacks.
is sure where the expression first was used, but everyone is sure what it means
used by people who dislike empty words.
They seek quick, direct answers.
They want to get to the bottom of a situation. There are others, however, who have no such desire. They feel there is some risk in trying to
get down to brass tacks.
happened in the case of a critic who made the mistake of reading a play written
by a close friend. The critic disliked
the play a lot. He felt his friend
should not be writing plays. But he
said nothing. This silence troubled the
writer. He demanded that his friend the
critic say something about the play.
The writer finally heard the critic's opinion. And this getting down to brass tacks ended a long friendship.
Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES, was written by Mike
Pitts. I'm Warren Scheer.