SENTENCE USAGE: The two candidates have been attacking each other for over a year now. I guess they’re gettin’ down to the brass tacks!
What do brass tacks have to do with a political campaign?
The phrase brass tacks first appeared in print relatively recently in 1903. Despite its relative newness, no one knows for certain the origin of the phrase or exactly how it came to mean "to attend to or to consider details of immediate practical importance." Nevertheless, we do know of at least two interesting theories.
The most widely circulated story has it the phrase brass tacks are actually the brass-headed tacks used in furniture upholstery. The brass-headed tacks are used especially at the bases of upholstered chairs to hold the upholstery in place. When working with the brass-headed tacks, either to attach the upholstery or to remove it, the craftsperson could be said to be getting to the heart of the matter. Therefore, according to this theory, getting down to brass tacks first came to acquire its meaning in the upholsterer’s shop.
Another theory credits the phrase to merchants in country stores. The explanation in this case is that such merchants would hammer brass-headed tacks into their countertops at measured intervals. They then would use them as a quick way to measure lengths of cloth for customers. Once the customer decided which cloth and how much of it to buy, the merchant would get down to brass tacks and measure out the yardage from the bolt.
Unfortunately, there is no substantial evidence to back up either of these theories, and we regard both of them as pretty dubious.