The brass chase


Recently, two expressions began rattling around in my head…

Let’s get down to the brass tacks

Let’s cut to the chase

At their very foundations, the two offerings are quite similar. A bit of a plea to strip away the clutter and extra stuff, then begin looking at things from most essential and basic ideas. But are the current meanings—and, for these, fairly standard and long-lasting meanings—a true reflection of the origins?

Getting down to the brass tacks indicates a move toward the facts. No nonsense. It alludes to the essential ideas in a discussion, the inarguable stuff.

The phrase is attributed to American history, with most traces going back roughly one-hundred-fifty years. Actually, not too long and quite likely more recent than you would expect. It focuses on the sale of items in lengths, usually cloth. On counters would be a way to measure, usually two tacks mounted a specific distance apart (perhaps a yard).

Using a tool to measure a specific length. Not allowing different people to warp details with personal influences (such as measuring a length of cloth by the inconsistent length of an arm). That, in several ways, works with our current cutting out the garbage and focusing on the specifics idea.

There are also people that look to the decorative uses of brass tacks, such as on furniture and even to mark coffins. In such cases, we need a bit of a twist, but it still comes close to the same end… this time talking about finishing touches and designs, which means getting down to what everyone sees.

When we cut to the chase, we’re getting to the point. Stop the dancing around and focus on the issue. You might not figure out the source on this one.

Most places attribute the idea to movies. Yup. Movies. The idea being that for most people, they want to see the exciting stuff. You know the chase scenes in a movie? Filled with fun and thrills. Yeah… that’s it. Don’t risk losing the audience with dull speeches, cut to the chase scene.

In fact, one source specifically cites the 1929 work Hollywood Girl (J.P. McEvoy’s book served as the source for the film Show Girl in Hollywood), which includes the directions: “Cut to chase.” (While that isn’t considered the definitive source, and efforts are made to go back further in time to actual stage productions cutting from scene to scene, the main point is the connection to film and more specifically productions directions. Stop the nonsense… cut to the main event.)

Both phrases eliminate the extra stuff… the silliness… the tangents… the inconsistent and, if you will, gossip.

I probably could go on. Do a bit more research. Tell some additional stories. But, well, you know… brass tacks… cut to the chase…


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