Word of the Day: brass

Word of the Day
August 3, 2016
brass (noun, adjective)
/bræs/  sound icon
Part of the brass section of an orchestra
Brass is a metal alloy of copper and zinc. By extension, brass is any utensil or decorative object made of brass and, in music, brass is the sum of all the wind instruments made of brass, like trumpets, horns, and trombones. The brass is also a military term used to describe high-ranking officers. Informally, brass is an excess of self-assurance or impudence. As an adjective, brass refers to anything made out of brass or any piece of music composed for brass instruments.


Example sentences
This instrument is made of brass.
This section of the work is to be played entirely by the brass.
The soldiers aren't happy about some of the decisions the brass have made, but they have to obey orders.
I can't believe you had the brass to do that!
There was a collection of brass ornaments in the shop window
Louis Armstrong recorded many famous brass songs that everyone knows today, like "When the Saints Go Marching In."


Multi-word forms
be brassed off (UK): be really annoyed. Example: "Honestly, everything has gone wrong today. My car broke down and I got into trouble at work for being late. Then I had to walk home in the rain. I'm really brassed off."
get down to brass tacks: get to the most important things. Example: "OK, that's enough small talk. Let's get down to brass tacks now."
Did you know?
In UK English, particularly in the North of England, brass is also a slang term for money. It is used a little less these days than it once was, but you may still hear it or come across it in old books. Example: "I'd buy that house, if only I had the brass." It is also sometimes heard in the Yorkshire dialect expression "Where there's muck, there's brass," meaning that money can be made from doing unpleasant, dirty jobs that no one else wants to do.
Other forms
brassed (adjective), brassy (adjective)
Brass dates back to before the year 1000, and it evolved from the Old English bræs, through the Middle English bras to the word we know today. It is important to mention that originally, brass meant an alloy of copper and tin (we now call that bronze); the alloy of copper and zinc did not appear until the Roman Empire. That's why, if you find the word brass in an ancient book, like the Christian Bible, it really means 'bronze.' Brass is one of the few words in English language that don't have a clear root outside of English. It could be related to the French word braser (meaning 'to brew,' because the metal is melted and mixed), or it could come from the Old Frisian bres, meaning 'copper' or the Middle Low German bras, meaning 'metal.' Nobody knows for sure. It was first used to mean impudence in the early 17th century, and the military-related meaning only appeared in the mid-20th century.
Brass in other languages
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