en
  • Find tutor

The Meaning, Origin, and Use of “Getting Down to Brass Tacks”

We use “getting back to brass tacks” to invite someone (or ourselves) to get down to business and start solving core issues.

Valentina Dordevic
Valentina Dordevic

We use “getting back to brass tacks” to invite someone (or ourselves) to get down to business and start solving core issues. The logic behind its meaning is a bit tricky. There’s no obvious connection between those tiny pins and important stuff. But when you get back to brass tacks, it actually makes sense.

Is it Brass Tacks or Brass Tax?

According to Google, many people believe this expression has something to do with taxes and wonder what the heck is brass tax.

But there’s no such thing as a brass tax. It’s about brass tacks, those small pins that fix upholstery to furniture. Brass tacks have also been used in coffin production for ages, which adds an amusing layer to the meaning of the phrase “getting down to brass tacks.”

The Origin of Idiom “Down to Brass Tacks”

This idiomatic expression is coined during Texas's second half of the 19th century. Perhaps it’s a bit older, bat that’s when (and where) it first appeared in a written form. Anyway, it’s not as old as some other idiomatic phrases.

The oldest excerpt of a text that includes this expression—and can be found online—was published in 1863 in a Texas-based publication titled The Tri-Weekly Telegraph. The author of the original sentence uses brass tacks as a metaphor to conclude that selfish interests govern everyone's actions.

The Meaning and Use of “Get Down to Brass Tacks”

Getting down to brass tacks has become a colloquial, symbolic way of saying “let’s talk (or deal with) about important detail,” “get down to business,” “get back to basics,” “let’s get beyond the surface, dig deeper, and consider the real, potentially unpleasant, issues.”

This phrase is often used to halt the chatter and introduce important facts and details.

What brass tacks have to do with basic facts, no one knows for sure. One theory points out the historically high price of brass. While brass tacks were not as expensive as silver, they were considerably more costly than steel tacks. As a result, some traders sold steel tucks with brass coating while claiming these were brass tacks. If you were a buyer at the time, you would probably want to get back to brass tacks, get beyond the surface, and examine what these were made of.

Examples of “Get Down to Brass Tacks” in Sentences

We eventually got down to brass tacks and resolved the problem.
We’ll get down to brass tacks and finish the work on Monday.
Don’t be afraid of facing the facts. Just get down to brass tacks.
Let's get down to brass tacks. Who's going to ask her?
Sometimes the only way to make a reasonable decision is to get down to brass tacks.
EnglishIdioms & expressions

Valentina Dordevic

Hello! My name is Valentina. Book digesting is my specialty. I transform book ideas into easy-to-follow summaries, articles, study guides, reviews, essays, analyses, slides, or e-books.


Milena Lazova

I'm an ESL teacher with over 7 years of experience in providing original content. I really like writing educational articles which may help others learn some aspects of English.

Valentina Dordevic

Hello! My name is Valentina. Book digesting is my specialty. I transform book ideas into easy-to-follow summaries, articles, study guides, reviews, essays, analyses, slides, or e-books.

Beth Taylor

Hello! My name is Beth. I'm from France. I'm a French and English native speaker and I really like writing.