brass tacks

The phrase get down to brass tacks is of uncertain etymology. No one knows why it was originally coined, but there are several explanations. What we do know is that the phrase dates to at least the 1860s and that it is American, possibly Texas to be specific, in origin. Beyond that, there is only speculation.

The earliest known citations are from newspapers, the first being from the Houston, Texas Tri-Weekly Telegraph of 21 January 1863:

When you come down to “brass tacks"—if we may be allowed the expression—everybody is governed by selfishness.1

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